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CHAPTER I. 1769—1799. pagk 

Birth and education of Humboldt — Early love of travel, and pro- 
jected expeditions — Receives permission to travel in South Ame- 
rica — Arrival at Cum ana — Extraordinary phenomenon on the 
Plain of Cumana— Bathing— Description of the city. . I 

CHAPTER II. 1799. 

Excursions from Cumana — The Alps of America — Cabins of the 
Mestizoes — Ridge named The Impossible — South American 
forests — Bamboo plants — Village of San Fernando — The Supe- 
rior of the Mission— To'ftTi of Cumanacoa— Ravages of wild 
beasts— Cavern with luminous exhalations. . . 12 


The Plateau of CocoUar— View therefrom— Missions of San Antonio 
and Guanaguana— Perilous passage into the Valley of Caripe 
— The Convent of Caripe — The Cave of Guacharo, and its noc- 
turnal birds — Forest of Santa Maria — Magnificent vegetation — 
The mission of Catuaro— Condition of the Negroes— The town 
of Cariaco— Its tmhealthiness— Return to Cmnana— General 
remarfas on the Indians of New Andalusia — Effects of the Mis- 
sions^The Aborigines of America. . . . .25 

CHAPTER IV. 1799. 

Residence at Cumana— The travellers attacked by a Zambo— Eclipse 
of the sun— Singular phenomena— an earthquake— Remarkable 
display of fire-balls and falling stars. . . . .37 

CHAPTER V. 1799. 

Departure from Cumana— Sensations on leaving it — Voyage along 
the coast — Unhealthiness in the low shores — Influence of man- 
groves, and other trees in causing it — Situation of La Guayra— 
[ Its excessive heat — Introduction of the yellow fever therein— 

• Road thence to Caraccas. . . . . .43 



The city of Caraccas— Phj'sical and social aspect of Venezuela- 
Native population— Description of Caraccas— Its climate— The 
adjoining mountains— Character of the inhabitants— Excursion 
tothesummitof the Silla— Difficulties of thejourney— A'iew from 
the summit— The descent— Gold and silver mines of Venezeula. 58 


Eatthquake at Caraccas in 1812— Subterranean commotions in Ame- 
rica in 1811 and 1812— Destruction of the city — Lamentable loss 
of life— Exhumation of the wounded — Jloral eiTects of the cala- 
mity— Wide extent of the earthquake. . . .70 


Departure from Caraccas— Rich vegetation of the valley— Moun- 
tains of Higuerota- Valley of the Tuy— Excursion to its gold 
mine— Enoi-mous trunks of fig-trees — Prosperity of the towns 
and villages— The Zamang of Guayra — The Hacienda de Cura — , 
The Lake of Valencia— Its cultivated shores— Diminution of its 
waters— Its islands — To^vn of New Valencia— Hot springs — Por- 
to Cabello— The Cow- tree. . . . . .79 

CHAPTER IX. 1800. 

Departure from the valleys of Aragua — Bntva,nce into the Llanos, 
or plains — Their appearance — Characteristics of the plains of 
the four great continents; Prairies, Llanos, and Pampas — Want 
of hills in the Llanos — Two kinds of slight inequalities In them 
—General outline of the mountains of South America, and of 
Jts plains— Traces of ancient inhabitants — Palm-trees of the 
Llanos. . . . • . .101 

CHAPTER X. 1800. 

Journey across the Llanos — Fatigue of travelling — Farm of El Cay- 
man — Town of Calabozo — An ingenious inhabitant — Gymnoti, 
or electrical eels— Combat bet ween the eels and horses — Descrip- 
tion of the gymnoti — Effects of their shocks — The natives' dread 
of them— Departure from Calabozo — Heat and dust of the Llanos 


— An Indian girl found exhausted on the gi'ound — The river TJri- 
tuco and its crocodiles— Singular story of a crocodile — Arrival at 
San Fernando— Heat of that place— Periodical inundations, and 
destruction of horses. . . . . . .113 


Preparations for the voyage down the Apiire — The tribe of the Ya- 
ruroes— Wild animals on the banks of the river— The vegetation 
— Crocodiles— Story of an Indian girl seized by one— Chiguires — 
An enormous jaguar — Senor Don Ignacio, the jaguar hunter — 
Incidentsof a night — Nocturnal noises in theforests — The Caribe 
fish — Humboldt's adventure with a jaguar — 3Iana tees— Jim c- 
ture of the Apure and Orinoco. . . . .127 


Embarlcation on the Orinoco — Change of sceneiy — A Carib Chief- 
tain — Traditions of the Natives— Gathering of tm-tles' eggs on 
the shores of the Orinoco — The Missionaries — Cunning of the 
jaguars. . . . , . . . 143 


Departure from the Boca de la Tortuga — Accident on the river from 
the high wind — A night on a barren island — Lethargy of the cro- 
codiles dming the dry seasons— Passage of Baraguan — Aspect 
of nature— Impurities of the waters — Painted Indians at Para- 
ruma — Cuiious species of monkeys — Their sagacity . .154 


Departure from Pararuma— Mode of navigating the Orinoco- Mili- 
taiy conversion of thenatives — Inundations of tlierivei- — Ancient 
floods— Rapids and cascades — Subterranean sounds— Memno- 
nium — The Meta — The Stone of Patience — Sufferings from insects 
—Arrival at Paniunana, . . . . . 1G6 


The Cataracts of the Orinoco— Marvellous narratives of the coimtry 
above the cataracts — Panumana — Maladies — Regions round 
Atures and ^Maypures —Natural rafts of the Orinoco— Natural 


dikes— Increased intensity of nocturnal sounds— Atures— Pro- 
pensities of animals — Hairy man of the woods — Plague of insects 
— Table-lands of the Andes free from the plague of moschetoea . 179 


Departure from Atures— Cataract of Maypures— Region beyond the 
Great Cataracts— Black Waters— Arrival at San Fernando de 
Atabapo— Bats of Aricagua . . . . .199 


Departure from the Orinoco, and ascent of the river Atabapo — 
Mission of San Balthasar — Rock of the Mother; origin of its 
name— Connexion of the Orinoco with the river Amazon — Da- 
picho — They embark on the Pimichin stream , . .208 


Voyage down the Rio Negro— Christian settlements— Ants— The 
Cassiquiare — Esmeralda — TheCurare— They arrive again atSan 
Fernando de Atabapo — Cavern of Atariiipe— Earth-eating In- 
dians— They reach Angostura, and set out for Cumana . 220 


Adventure Vi'ith the privateer and the Hawk sloop of war- Captain 
Gamier — They arrive at Cumana — Optical Phenomena — They 
arrive at Havannah — at Batabano — They leave Cuba — Arrive at 
the Rio Sinu — Maroon negroes— Carthagena—Turbaco— Air vol- 
canoes— They arriveat Santa Fe de Bogota— Cataract of Tequeu- 
dama — Natiu-al bridges of Icononzo — Pass of Quindiu — Car- 
gueros — Cataracts of the Rio Viuaigre — Ridges of the Cordilleras 
— They arrive at Q,ui to — Mountainsof Cotopaxiand ChimbOrazo 
— They proceed towards Lima — Arrive at Loxa — Return to Peru 
— SojoiuTi at Lima — Set out for Guayaqiiil — Arrive at Acapulco. 230 


The travellers visit the most remarkable places of Mexico- Cascade 
of Regla— Volcano of JoruUo — They return to Mexico— Great 
pyTamid of Cholula — Perote— Small pox — Canal of Mexico — 
Condition of agriculture — The mines — They visit the United 
States — They return to Europe— Fate of Bonpland— of Himi- 
boldt— Visit of the latter to Asia— Conclusion. . , 266 




Birth and education of Humboldt — Eaiiy love of travel, and projected 
expeditions — Receives pernaission to travel in South America- 
Arrival at Cumana — Extraordinary phenomenon on the Plain of 
Cumana— Bathing — Description of the city. 

[17G9— 1799.] 

Frederick Henry Alexai^tder tox Humboldt, com- 
monly called the Baron do Humboldt, was born at 
Berlin, on the 14th of September, 1769; a year re- 
markable for the birth of many men who became in 
after-times exceedingly celebrated. He received his 
academical education at Gottingen and Frankfort on 
the Oder; and before he attained the age of twenty- 
one he began to avail himself of the advantages which 
a competent fortune afforded him in the gratification 
of a liberal curiosity and an ardent love of the phy- 
sical sciences. In 1790, he visited Holland a,nd Eng- 
land; and in the same year published his first work, 
entitled, "Observations on the Basalts of the Rhine." 
In the foUov/ing year he went to Frieburg to receive 
the instructions of the geologist "Werner; in 1792, he 
was appointed assessor of the Council of Mines at Ber- 
lin, and subsequently director-general of the mines of 
the principalities of Baireuth and Anspach in Fran- 
conia. He afterwards visited part of Italy and Swit- 



zerland, and in 1795 repaired to Vienna, wliere he re- 
mained some time engaged in the study of a fine col- 
lection of exotic plants. After some further excursions 
in other parts of Europe, he went to Paris, where he 
contracted an intimacy with M. Aime Bonpland, then 
a pupil of the School of Medicine and the Garden of 
Plants, who was afterwards liis companion in the 
travels, which form the immediate subject of our nar- 

Of the feelings which animated him at this period 
he has himself left us an account. "From my earliest 
youth,'*' he says, "I had experienced an ardent desire 
to travel into distant regions, little visited by Euro- 
peans. This desire characterizes a period of our ex- 
istence when life appears to us an unbounded horizon, 
and when nothing has greater attraction for us than 
strong agitations of the mind, and the image of phy- 
sical dangers. Educated in a comitry which has no 
direct communication with the colonies of the two 
Indies, then living amidst mountains remote from the 
coast, and celebrated for their numerous mines, I felt 
an increasing passion for the sea, and for long expe- 
ditions. The objects with which we are acquainted only 
through the animated narratives of travellers, have a 
particular charm for us; our imagination is pleased 
^vith everything vague and undefined; and the plea- 
sures of which we are deprived, seem preferable to 
those which we experience daily in the narrov/ cu'cle 
of sedentary life: a taste for herborization, the study 
of geology, a rapid excursion in Holland, England, and 
France, with the celebrated George Forster, who had 
the happiness to accompany Captain Cook in his second 
expedition round the globe, contributed to give a de- 
termined direction to the j)laii of travels which I had 


formed at eighteen years of age. It was no longer 
the desire of agitation and of a wandering life; it was 
the desire of contemplating a wild and majestic nature 
varied in its productions ; it was the hope of collecting 
some facts useful to the advancement of science, which 
incessantly impelled my wishes towards the fine regions 
situated beneath the torrid zone. As my personal 
situation did not permit me then to execute the pro- 
jects by which my mind was so vividly occupied, I had 
leisure to prepare myself during six years for the ob- 
servations which I purposed to make on the Xew 
Continent, to visit different parts of Europe, and study 
the lofty chain of the Alps, the structure of which I 
have been afterwards able to compare with that of the 
Andes of Quito and Peru. As I employed in succes- 
sion instruments differently constructed, I fixed my 
choice on those which appeared to me the most exact, 
and the least subject to break in the carriage. I had 
an opportunity of repeating measurements which had 
been taken according to the most rigorous methods : 
and I learnt from experience the extent of the errors 
to which I might be exposed." 

Being at Paris in the year 1798, when an expedition 
of discovery to the southern hemisphere, under the 
direction of Captain Baudin, was planned, Humboldt 
made preparations for joining it, in company with his 
friend Bonpland, v.dio was appointed one of the natu- 
rahsts. But the war which broke out with Austria 
compelled the revolutionary government of France to 
divert to less peaceful purposes the funds which had 
been set apart for this expedition ; and the enterprise 
was abandoned. 

His next design was to visit the northern countries 
of Africa, to examine, among other things, the Atlas 

B 2 


•jbaiu of moimtainsj and then join the French savans in 
Egypt; luit in tins, too, he was disappointed. Tliy 
wars M-hich unhappily then prevailed rendered it unsafe 
for any French vessel to attempt to cross the Mediter- 
ranean; and a Swedish frigate, in which he might have 
obtained a passage to Algiers, was injm-ed in a storm. 
and prevented from reaching IMarsoilles. where lie 
awaited her. His patience being exhausted, he re- 
paired to Spain, intending to pass the winter there, and 
hoping to hnd in the spring a conveyance to the coast 
of Barbary. But from this African expedition he wa> 
diverted by an intimation which he received while in 
Spain, to the effect that he might obtain permission 
to visit the American possessions of that power. 

In March, 1799, Humboldt was presented to the 
Spanish king, to whom he explained the motives which 
led him to undertake a voyage to the Xew Continent. 
Supported l)y the minister, Don Mariano Luis de Ur- 
(juijo, he received permission to visit the territories 
tiien possessed by Spain, in the interior of South Ame- 
rica. '•' Never," to use his own exj)ressions, '-had a 
Tiiore extensive permission been granted to any tra- 
veller; never had foreigner been honoured with more 
confidence on the part of the Spanish government. 
To dissipate all the doubts which the viceroys, or the 
captains-general, representing the royal authority in 
America, might raise upon the nature of my labours, 
the passport of the first secretary of state declared that 
I was authorised to use freely my instruments for phy- 
sical and geodesical operations, that in all the Spanisli 
possessions I might make astronomical observations. 
measure the height of mountains, gather the produc- 
tions of the soib and execute all the operations v/hicli 
I should iuds-o useful for the advancemoBt of science." 

The PlaminAc 


Impatient to ayail himself of this permission, Hum- 
boldt prepared with eagerness for his departure; he 
had experienced so many difficulties in the year past, 
that he had some difficulty, he says, in persuading him- 
self that his most ardent wishes would be at length ful- 
filled. He left Madrid, in company with Bonpland, 
towards the middle of May, and sailed from Corunnain 
a Spanish ship of war on the 5th of June. Touching 
at Teneriffe, the travellers remained there a few days, 
in the course of which they ascended to the summit of 
the Peak, and made many interesting and valuable 
observations. Directing their course across the Atlan- 
tic towai'ds South America, they arrived in the port of 
Cumana on the 16th of July, forty-one days after their 
departure from Corunna. 

The ship anchored at day-break opposite the mouth 
of the River Manzanarez; but the necessity of await- 
ing the visit of the officers of the port prevented our 
travellers from landing till very late in the morning. 
" Our looks," says Humboldt, " were fixed upon groups 
of cocoa-trees, which bordered the river, and the trunks 
of which, exceeding sixty feet in height, towered over 
the landscape. The plain was covered with tufts of 
cassias, capparis, and those arborescent mimosas, which, 
like the pine of Italy, extend their branches in the form 
of a parasol. The pinnated leaves of the palms stood 
out in bold relief against the azure of a sky, the purity 
of which was not sullied by any trace of vapour. The 
sun was mounting rapidly toward the zenith. A daz- 
zling hght was spread through the air, over the white 
hills strewed with cylindrical cactuses, and over that 
ever calm sea, the shores of which are peopled with 
alcatras, egrets, and flamingoes. The brightness of the 
day, the vivid colours of the vegetation, the form of the 


plants, the varied plumage of the birds, all announced 
the grand character of nature in the equinoctial 

On landing, they were conducted to the governor, 
who expressed great satisfaction on learning that they 
intended to remain some time in the province of Xew 
Andalusia. He took great interest in everything relat- 
ing to natural philosophy, and talked to them of azote, 
oxide of iron, and the hygrometer, — words as agreeable 
to their ears '•' as the name of his native country pro- 
nounced on a distant shore to those of a traveller." 
Towards the evening they disembarked their instru- 
ments, and had the pleasure of finding that none had 
been damaged. They hu*ed a spacious house, the situa- 
tion of which was favourable for astronomical observa- 
tions; when the breeze blew they enjoyed an agreeable 
coolness, the windows being without glass, and even 
destitute of its frequent substitute at Cumana, — paper. 

The city of Cumana, properly so called, stands at the 
distance of a mile from the shore; it is commanded by 
the castle of St. Antonio, and occupies the ground 
between that fort and the little rivers Manzanarez and 
Santa Catalina. It has three suburbs, the largest of 
'which is the Indian suburb of the Guayquerias. The 
■arid plain of Cumana exhibits, after violent showers, 
an extraordinary phenomenon. "The earth, drenched 
with rain, and heated again by the rays of the sun, 
emits that musky odour, which under the torrid zone, 
is common to animals of very different classes; — to the 
jaguar, the small species of tiger-cat, the thick-nosed 
tapir, the gahlinazo vultm-e, the crocodile, vipers, and 
rattlesnakes. The gaseous emanations which are 
the vehicles of this aroma, seem to be evolved in pro- 
portion only as the mould containing the spoils of an 


innumerable quantity of reptiles, worms, and insects, 
begins to be impregnated with water. I hare seen 
Indian children, of the tribe of the Chaymas, draw out 
from the earth and eat, millepedes or scolopendras, 
eighteen inches long and upwards of half an inch 
broad. Wherever the soil is turned up, one is struck 
with the mass of organic substances which by turns are 
developed, transformed, or decomposed. Nature, in 
these climates, a]3pears more active, more fruitful, wc 
might even say more prodigal, of life." 

The waters of the Manzanarez are very clear, and its 
banks extremely pleasant, being shaded by mimosas, 
erythrinas, ceibas, and other trees of gigantic growth. 
The temperature of the river is often twenty degrees 
below that of the air ; and thus it becomes an ines- 
timable benefit in a country where the heats are exces- 
sive during the whole year, and where it is so agreeable 
to bathe several times in the day. The children pass, 
as it were, a part of their lives in the water ; all the 
inhabitants, even the ladies of the richest families,^ 
learn to swim; and one of the first questions asked on 
meeting in the morning, is, whether the water is cooler 
than on the preceding evening. The mode of enjoying 
the bath is sufficiently varied. "We frequented evei-y 
evening," says Humboldt, " a society of very estimable 
persons in the suburb of the Guayquerias. Under a 
fine moonlight, chairs were placed in the water; the 
men and the women vrere lightly clothed, as in some 
baths of the north of Europe ; and the family, and the 
strangers assembled on the river, passed several hours 
in smoking cigars, and talking, according to the custom 
of the country, about the extreme dryness of the season, 
the abundant rains in the neighbouring districts, and 
particularly of the luxury of which the ladies of Cu- 

10 CUMAiXA. 

mana accuse those of Caracas and the Havannah. The 
company were under no apprehension from the bavas, or 
small crocodiles, which are now extremely scarce, and 
which approach men without attacking them. These 
animals are three or four feet long. We never met 
with them in the Manzanarez, but v/ith a great number 
of dolphins, which sometimes ascend the river in the 
night, and frighten the bathers by spouting water." 

The port of Cumana is described as a road capable 
of receiving all the navies of Europe ; and the whole of 
the Gulf of Cariaco affords excellent anchorage. The 
sea is calm, the hurricanes of the West Indies being 
never felt here. Earthquakes, however, are frequent, 
and have sometimes produced very fatal effects. In 
1766, the city was entirely destroyed ; and in 1797, 
four-fifths of it were again overwhelmed. 

The picture which Humboldt has drawn of the gene- 
ral appearance of Cumana is very interesting. "The 
city, placed at the foot of a hill destitute of verdure, is 
commanded by a castle. No steeple, or dome, attracts 
from afar the eye of the traveller, but only a few trunks 
of tamarind, cocoa, and date trees, which rise above the 
houses, the roofs of which are flat. The surrounding 
plains, especially those on the coasts, wear a melan- 
choly, dusty, and arid appearance, while a fresh and 
luxuriant vegetation points out from afar the windings 
of the river which separates the city from the suburbs, 
the population of European and mixed race from the 
natives with a coppery tint. The hill of Fort St. An- 
tonio, isolated, naked, and white, reflects a great mass 
of light and of radiating heat. In the distance, toward 
the south, a vast and gloomy curtain of mountains 
stretches along. Majestic forests cover this cordillera 
of the interior, and are joined by a woody vale to the 

CUM AN A. 11 

open clayey lands and salt marshes of tlie enyirons of 
Cumana. A few birds, of considerable size, contribute 
to give a iDarticular jDhysiognomy to these countries. 
On the sea-shore, and in the gulf, we find flocks of 
fishing-herons and alcatras of a very imwieldy form, 
which swim like the swan, raising their wings. Nearer 
the habitations of men, thousands of galenas, vultures, 
the true jackals of the winged tribe, are ever busy in 
uncovering the carcasses of animals. The coasts are 
bathed by a tranquil sea of an azure tint, and always 
gently agitated by the same wind. A pure and bright 
sky, offering only a few light clouds at sunset, rests 
on the ocean, on the peninsula [of Araya] destitute of 
trees, and on the plains of Cumana; whilst storms are 
seen to form, accumulate, and resolve into fertile 
showers among the mountain-tops of the interior. 
It is thus that on these coasts, as at the foot of the 
Andes, the earth and the skies offer the extremes of 
clear weather and fogs, of drought and torrents of 
rain, of absolute bareness and a verdure incessantly 
renewed. In the New Continent, the low regions on 
the sea-coasts differ as widely from the inland 
mountainous districts, as the plains of Lower Egypt 
from the high lands of Abyssinia." 

12 E.X.OLilSIO>'S i'KOil ('JMA.SA. 


l^xcutMOiii. from Curaana — The Alps of America — Ciibinsof the Mesti- 
zoes — Ridge named 2'he ImpossU'le — SoutU Amoricun forests — 
Bamboo plants — Village of San Fernando — The f*uporior of the 
IMission— To^\^l of Cumanacoa— Ravages of wild boii&t.s— Cavcru 
with luminous exhalations. 


VovR montlis elapsed after tlic arriviil of our travel- 
lers at Cumanaj before tliey finally quitted it on theii- 
great expedition to the Orinoco. But in this intorval 
they made two exem-sions. — one, to the peninsula oi" 
Araya and its salt-works, the other to the missions of 
the Chayraa Indians., in the mountains of Xew Anda- 
lusia. This second excursion was commenced on the 
•4th of September, the tra^-ellers rjuirtin-- the city of 
€umana at an early hour. 

'•'After a journey of two hours," says Hujnboldt, 
'•' we reached the foot of the lofty chain of the interior 
mountains, which runs from east to west, from the Bri- 
gantine to the Ccrro do Sail Lorenzo. Here, neu 
species of rock commence, and, wdth them, a new 
aspect of vegetation. Everything here assumes a more 
majestic and picturesque character. The ground, wa- 
tered by springs, is intersected in all directions. Trees, 
of a gigantic height, and covered with creepers,, shoot 
up in the ravines: their bark, blackened and burned 
by the twofold action of light and atmospheric oxygen, 
forms a contrast with the vivid green of the pothos and 
dracontium, the leather-like and glossy leaves of which 
frequently shoot out to the length of several feet. The 
parasitical monocotyledons, between the tropics, may 
be said to occupy the place of the mosses and the 


lichens of our northern zone. As we proceeded, the 
mountains, both by their shape and grouping, brought 
to our recollection the scenery of Swisserland and the 
Tyrol. Upon these Alps of America, even at consider- 
able heights, we met with the Heliconia, the Costus, 
the Maranta, and others of the cane family; while, 
near the coast, the same plants delight only in low and 
swampy situations. It is thus, that, by an extraor- 
dinary similarity, in the torrid zone, as in the north of 
Europe, under the influence of an atmosphere continu- 
ally loaded with fog, as upon a soil moistened by melt- 
ing snow, the vegetation of mountains presents all the 
characteristic features of that of marshy places." 

The cabins of the Mestizoes dwelling in these parts 
were found placed in the midst of small enclosures, 
containing bananas, papayas, sugar-canes, and maize. 
Humboldt remarks, that the small extent of their 
cleared spots would surprise us, if we did not recollect 
that an acre, planted with banana-trees, yields nearly 
twenty times the quantity of aliment which the same 
space would give if sown with grain. This superior 
fecundity of nature in the torrid zone, prevents the 
spreading of a population over a wide space. In Eu- 
rope, the wheat and other kinds of grain, necessary for 
the food of its inhabitants, cover a vast extent of coun- 
try; and the cultivators necessarily come into contact 
with each other. In the torrid zone, the reverse is the 
case; there the fertility of the soil corresponds with the 
heat and humidity of the atmosphere, and man avails 
himself of those vegetables which rise most rapidly, and 
yield most abundantly. Thus, a numerous population 
finds ample subsistence within a narrow space, and the 
tracts of cultivated land are separated from each other 
by the intervention of large vmstes. Even in the 


neiglibourliood of the most populous cities of equinoc- 
tial Americaj the surface of the earth is bristled with 
forests, or covered with a thick SAvard which the plough- 
share has never divided; plants of spontaneous growth 
predomiucite by their luxuriance and their masses over 
those that are cultivated, and determine the character 
and aspect of the country. To an European traveller, 
unmindful of this distinction, or not knowing how small 
an extent of soil will suffice in those regions for the 
maintenance of a family, a j'lopulous province might 
seem almost uninhabited. 

Continuing their ascent, our travellers arrived about 
dusk on the summit of a ridge, to Avhich had been 
given the name of The, Impossihle, under the belief 
that it would afford the inhabitants of Cumana a safe 
retreat from an enemy landing on the coast. In the 
year 1797, when that port was threatened, after the 
capture of Trinidad bjtheEnglish, many of the people 
fled to Cumanacoa, leaving their most valuable effects 
in sheds built upon this ridge. Yet by the route of The 
Impossible the cultivators of the plains of the interior 
transport their cattle, skins, and provisions to Cumana. 
The travellers spent their night in a house at which 
was stationed a military post of a Spanish sergeant and 
eight men. Without, the scene around them was 
remarkably impressive; in several parts the neigh- 
bouring forests were on fire, and the flames arising 
from the burning masses, amidst clouds of smoke, pro- 
<luccd a very striking spectacle. These conflagrations 
are sometimes occasioned by the negligence of the 
wandering Indians; and they are sometimes the 
result of design, the woods being burnt for the sake 
of ■ improving the pasturage. In the western part 
of North Aniei'ica a vast extent of prairie ground is 


aDnually OTerruii by fire, the result more frequently 
of design than of accident; and Mango Park mention:^ 
a practice prevailing in the central countries of 
Africa, of setting on tiro the dry grass, and thereby 
rendering the country more healthful and pleasant. 

On the morning of the oth, before sunrise, the 
travellers quitted The Impossible, and descending by 
a narrow path, entered at the foot of the mountain 
.•^ thick forest intersected by numerous rivers. 

"'When a traveller, just arrived from Eiu'ope, pene- 
trates, for the first time, into the forests of South 
America, nature presents herself under an aspect quite 
unlooked-for. The surrounding objects recall but a 
faint remembrance of the pictures traced by writers 
of celebrity on the banks of the Mississippi, in Florida, 
and in the other temperate regions of the Xew World. 
He is sensible, at every step, that he is not on the 
bordere, but in the centre of the torrid zone ; not on 
one of the islands of the Antilles, but on a vast con- 
tinent, where every thing is gigantic, — mountains, 
rivers, and the whole mass of the vegetable creation. 
[f he takes delight in the beauties of rural scenery, he 
ihids himself at a loss to define the nature of his min- 
gled feelings. He is unable to distinguish that which 
most excites his wonder, — whether the deep stillness 
of the wilderness, the individual beauty and contrast 
of the objects, or that freshness and grandeur of vege- 
table life, which characterize tropical climates. The 
plants with which the earth is overburdened may bo 
said to want room for their developement. The 
trunks of trees are everywhere concealed under a 
thick carpet of verdure: and if one could carefully 
transplant the families of the Orchis, the Piper, and 
the Pothos, which draw their nourishment from a siu- 



gle Courbarii, or fig-tree of America, (Ficiis gigantau) 
one might be able to cover with them a very extensive 
spot of ground. By this singular grouping, forests 
and the sides of rocks and mountains enlarge the 
dominion of organic nature. The same creeping- 
plants which run along the ground climb to the tops 
of trees, and pass from one to another at the height 
of more than a hundi-ed feet. It is thus that the 
continual intertwining of parasitical plants often leads 
the botanist to confound the flowers, fruits, and 
foliage belonging to different species." 

Issuing from the woods, they entered an open coun- 
try, covered with aquatic plants of a height varying 
between eight and ten feet. As far as the village of 
San Fernando, which was distant from the forest about 
a league, the road was bordered by a species of bam- 
boo, growing upwards of forty feet high. The ele- 
gance of this plant is spoken of in high terms, the form 
and disposition of its leaves imparting to it a character 
of lightness which contrasts agreeably with its great 
height; aud Humboldt thinks, that of all the vege- 
table forms of the tropical regions, those of the bam- 
boo and fern-tree most forcibly strike the imagina- 
tion of the traveller. He observes that the bamboo 
plants are less common in America than is usually 
supposed, although they form dense woods in New 
Grenada and Quito, and are found in abundance on 
the western slope of the Andes. "One might say,'* 
he adds, "that the western slope of the Andes w^as their 
true country; yet what is sufficiently remarkable, we 
have found them not only in the low regions on a 
level with the ocean, but also in the liigh valleys of 
the Cordilleras, even at an elevation of 860 toises." 
Entering the village of San Fernando, which is 


situated in a narrow plain bounded by limestone rocks, 
tlie travellers were agreeably impressed by the regu- 
larity of the place, the uniformity of the buildings, 
the extreme neatness of the dwellings, and the sober 
and silent air of the inhabitants. The aj)pearance of 
this missionary station — the first which they had seen 
in America — recalled to their recollection the esta- 
blishments of the Moravian brethren. The streets 
were straight, intersecting each other at right angles; 
the houses of the Indians were built of clay, strength- 
ened by lianas. Besides the private gardens, there 
was a common garden, towards the cultivation of 
which every Indian family contributed a portion of 
its labour, the adults of both sexes working therein 
one hour in the morning, and one in the evening. In 
the centre of the village was the great square, contain- 
ing the church, the missionary's house, and an hum- 
ble edifice bearing the pompous appellation of Casa del 
Re.y or House of the King — an establishment common 
in the Spanish settlements, and intended for the ac- 
commodation of travellers, to whom it must needs be 
of great service in a country destitute of inns. The 
number of families at the mission amounted to about 
one hundred. The Superior, who received the tra- 
vellers with kindness, is thus described: 

'-The missionary of San Fernando was a Capuchin, 
a native of Arragon, very far advanced in years, but 
still vigorous and cheerful. His great corpulency, his 
sprightly disposition, and the interest which he took in 
battles and sieges, but ill accorded with the notion 
formed, in northern countries, of the melancholic ab- 
straction and contemplative life of a missionaiy. 
Though closely busied with a cow which was to be 
slaughtered the next morning, the old monk yet re- 



ceived us with good liumour; and gave us leave to 
sling our hammocks in a gallery of his house. Seated, 
without employment, during the chief part of the day, 
in a great arm-chair of red wood, he complained bit- 
terly of what he termed the idleness and ignorance of 
his countrymen. He asked us a thousand questions 
concerning the real motive of our travels, which to 
him seemed hazardous, and, at best, useless. Here, as 
on the Orinoco, we w^ere harassed by that eager curi- 
osity which, in the midst of the forests of America, 
Europeans retain respecting the wars and political 
storms of the Old World. 

"In other respects, our missionary appeared to be 
satisfied wath his situation. He treated the Indians 
mildly; he saw his mission prosper; and he extolled 
with enthusiasm the water, the bananas, and the milk 
diet of the district. He smiled contemptuously at the 
sight of our instruments, books, and dried plants; and 
acknowledged, with a frankness peculiar to these cli- 
mates, that of all the enjoyments of life, not excepting 
sleep, none was to be compared with the pleasiu'e of 
eating good beef, carne de vacca (cow's flesh); so true 
is it, that sensuality springs from the absence of mental 
occupation. Our host persuaded us repeatedly to visit 
the cow which he had just purchased; and the next 
• day, at sunrise, he insisted on our going to see the 
animal killed according to the custom of the country, 
namely by cutting the ham-string, and then plunging 
- a large knife between the vertebra? of the neck. Dis- 
gusting as the operation was, we learnt from it the 
€xpertness of the Chaymas Indians, who, eight in num- 
ber, cut the beast into small joints in less than twenty 
minutes. The cow had cost but seven piastres, yet 
this seemed to be considered a very high price. The 


same clay the missionary paid eigliteen piastres to a 
soldier of Cumana, for bleeding him in the foot. This 
fact, of little apparent importance, strikingly proves 
how much, in wild uncultivated countries, the value of 
commodities differ from that of labour/*' 

From San Fernando they proceeded to the village of 
Arenas, and from thence to Cumanacoa, a small 
town, of low slight houses, chiefly built of wood. Their 
attention was here principally attracted by the climate, 
which was found to differ in an extraordinaiy degree 
from that of the neighbouring town of Cumana. The 
distance of Cumanacoa from that port is about seven 
leagues, or four-and-twenty miles ; and the little 
plain on which it stands and which is surrounded by 
lofty mountains, is elevated only about 100 toises, or 
665 feet, above the level of the sea. Yet there is a 
considerable difference in temperature between the 
two places ; and what is more remarkable, although it 
seldom or never rains at Cumana, there is a regular 
rainy season of seven months' dm*ation at Cumanacoa, 
It was during this season that the travellers visited 
Cumanacoa. Every night, from eight or nine o'clock, 
they found the sky obscured by a thick fog ; aliout two 
o'clock in the afternoon there was always a gathering of 
large black clouds, from which issued peals of thunder 
and torrents of rain: at five a change took place, and 
the sun again appeared. This abundance of moisture 
being very favourable to the vegetation, the soil is re- 
markably fertile. The plain of Cumanacoa is cele- 
brated for its tobacco, which is inferior in aroma only 
to that of Cuba and the Rio Negro; it is almost the 
only part of the province of Cumana in which the 
plant is cultivated. The inhabitants of the plain were 
rather incommoded by the jaguars which issued from 


caves in the neighbouring mountains, and roamed about 
the plantations at night. The year before, one of those 
animals had nearly devoured a horse belonging to a 
farmer: the groans of the victim awakened the slaves, 
who went out armed with knives and lances, and de- 
spatched the intruder after a vigorous resistance. 

"While at Cumanacoa, the attention of our travellers 
was attracted to a ravine in the neighbouring moun- 
tains, containing two caverns, out of which there issued 
occasionally jets of flame powerful enough to light up 
the adjacent heights, and be visible at a great distance 
in the night. The phenomenon had become more fre- 
quent of late; and the inhabitants knowing that similar 
luminous exhalations had preceded the destruction of 
foui--iifths of the city of Cumana in 1797, were disposed 
to fear similar calamitous consequences in their own 
neighbourhood. Humboldt's first attempt to penetrate 
into the ravine was frustrated by the luxuriance of the 
vegetation: but by the assistance of the natives, who 
were rather anxious to have the German miner's opinion 
of a fancied gold mine which lay in the desired route, a 
path was cleared through the thorny and intertwining 
plants which obstructed the woods. After ascertaining 
that the supposed gold ore was but iron pyrites in a 
bed of black marl, the travellers pursued their way 
until they reached a lofty wall of rock rising perpendi- 
cularly to the height of nearly a mile. Here they saw 
two inaccessible caverns inhabited apparently by noc- 
turnal birds; it was from these caverns that the flames 
had been observed to issue. Humboldt was unable to 
ascertain the cause of these luminous exhalations. 

The Jaguar. 


Chapter III. 

The Plateau of Cocollai'— View therefrom— Missions of San Antonio and 
Guanaguana — Perilcus passage into the Valley of Caripe— The 
Convent of Caiipe— The Cave of Cuaeharo, and its nocturnal birds 
— Forest of Santa Maria — IMagnificent vegetation — The mission of 
Catuaro — Condition of the Ne,gi-oes — The town of Cariaco — Its un- 
lioalthiness— Return to Cumana — General remarks on the Indian-- 
of New AndiUusia — Effect of the Missions — The Aborigines of 


Proceedixg from the plain of Cumanacoa toward the 
missions of San Antonio and Guanaguana, the travel- 
lers passed three days on the plateau of CocollaTj at 
the farm of a Spaniard, who was the sole survivor of 
mi expedition v/hicli had been sent into the New World 
to form establishments for supplying the Spanish navy 
with timber. The climate was delightful, and the 
scenery possessed a character of novelty and magni- 
ficence. From the elevated point which they occupied- 
the eye, as far as it could reach, saw only naked savan- 
nahs, although in the neighbouring valleys there wei"e 
scattered trees, and beautiful flowers. 

'•Nothing,"" says Humboldt, •'can be compared with 
the sense of that majestic stillness produced by the 
appearance of the sky in this solitary spot. At night- 
fall, while our eye was ranging over those meadows 
which bound the horizon, over that gently undulated 
table-land covered ^^ ith grass and herbs, we fancied we 
(iaw at a distance, as in the Steppes of the Oronoco, 
the surface of the ocean supporting the starry canopy 
of heaven. The tree under which we sat, the luminous 
insects fluttering in the air, the constellations glittering 
in the south, every thing seemed to say that we were 
far from our native land. If in the midst of this exotic 
nature, our ear caught, from the bottom of a vaJlev, tho 


tinkling of a cow-bell, or the roaring of a bull, the 
remembrance of our own country was forthwith 
awakened. It was like the echo of distant sounds 
from beyond the seas, transporting us by its magic 
power from one hemisphere to the other. Strange 
wandering of the human imagination ! Endless source 
of enjoyment and of pain!" 

On the 14th of Sej)tember, they entered the beautiful 
valley in which are situated the two missions of San 
Antonio and Guanaguana; and resting but a short 
time at the former, they reached the latter in the 
evening, and were received with great civility by the 
old missionary. The village had not been established 
at this place more than thirty years, having been trans- 
ferred from a more southerly spot which it previously 
occupied. The Indians remove their dwellings with 
remarkable facility ; there are in South America seve- 
ral small towns which have changed their situation 
three times in less than half a century. The padre, 
who had been an inhabitant of the forests of America 
for a long period, told the travellers, that according to 
the invariable practice of the missions, the funds of the 
community or the produce of the labour of the Indians^ 
must first bo employed in the construction of a house 
for the missionary, then in building a church, and lastly 
in clothing the Indians; and from this order he as- 
sured them that no departm-e could on any pretext be 
allowed. Under these circumstances, it is perhaps for- 
tunate that the Indians, whose turn comes last, prefer 
positive nakedness to the lightest clothing. No church 
had yet been erected at Guanaguana; only the first 
step in the scale of civilization had been surmounted, a 
spacious dwelling for the missionary having been just, 
completed. " Wc remarked, with some surprise," says 


Humboldt, " that this house, the top of which termi- 
nated in a terrace, was ornamented with a great num- 
ber of chimneys resembhng so many turrets; this, our 
host said, was to recall to his recollection a country 
which was dear to him, and to remind him of the 
winters of Arragon in the midst of the heats of the 
torrid zone." 

From the valley of Guanaguana, our travellers pro- 
ceeded into that of Caripe. Their route lay along a sort 
.of dike, or limestone ridge, which separates the one 
from the other, and which is known by the name of the 
Cuchillo de Guanaguana, literally, the Knife of Guana- 
guana. The journey was one of some difficulty; the 
slopes were covered with very slippery tm-f; and often- 
times the path was only fourteen or fifteen inches 
broad, with a precipice seven or eight hunch-ed feet in 
depth, on either side. Yet the sure-footed mules car- 
ried them safely through it. Humboldt observes that 
nothing is more common than to hear the mountaineers 
say, "I shall not give you the easiest-going mule, but 
la mas racional — the most reasoning one;" and he 
adds that •' this popular expression, dictated by long 
experience, combats the system of animal machines 
better perhaps than all the arguments of speculative 
philosophy." The valley of Caripe is elevated nearly 
a quarter of mile above that of Guanaguana ; the con- 
trast between the climate of the two is remarkable, the 
former being cool and salubrious, while the latter is 
extremely hot. 

When our travellers reached the convent of Caripe, 
the Superior was absent; but having heard of their in- 
tended visit, he had made arrangements for rendering 
their stay agreeable. The society happened to be nu- 
merous ; consisting of several young monks who had 


recently arrived from Spain, and were about to be dis- 
tributed among tlie different missions, and some old 
and infirm missionaries who were seeking health in the 
salubrious mountain air. Humboldt speaks in high 
terms of their conduct towards him, as indeed of that 
of the Sf)anish missionaries generally. "During our 
abode in the convents and missions of America," he 
says, "we never experienced the slightest mark of in- 
tolerance. The monks of Caripe were not ignorant 
that I was born in the Protestant part of Germany. 
Furnished with the orders of the court, I had no motive 
to conceal fromthom this fact; yet at no time did any 
sign of distrust, any indiscreet question, any attempt at 
controversy, lessen the value of a hosjiitality bestowed 
with so much good breeding and frankness." 

The principal object which attracted the attention of 
our travellers during their stay at Caripe, was the great 
Cmva de Guacharo. or Cave of Guacharo, situated in a 
valley about three leagues from the convent. Hum- 
boldt observes, that in a country where the people love 
the marvellous, a cavern which gives birth to a river, 
and is inhabited by many thousand of nocturnal birds, 
the fat of which is emf)loyed in the missions for dress- 
ing food, is an inexhaustible subject of conversation 
and discussion. Our travellers, accompanied by most 
of the monks of Caripe and some Indians, visited the 
Cueva de Guacharo, on the 18th of September; they 
found their way to it by ascending the small river 
which issues from the cave, sometimes wading through 
the water, at others walking in a strip of muddy soil 
between the torrent and a wall of rock. The mouth of 
the cavern Avas of vast dimensions, being about eighty- 
five feet in width, and nearly eighty in height; it was 
formed in the face of a rock, which was covered with 


gigantic trees, intermingled with numberless beautiful 
plants, some of wliich hung in festoons over the en- 
trance. This luxuriant vegetation, which extended 
even a short distance within the recess, gave to it a 
character, which, in a less favoured cKme, it would not 
have possessed; as Humboldt remarks, it is with the 
openings of caverns as with cascades, their principal 
attraction is derived from the local scenery. 

The bird of night, from which this cavern obtains its 
name of Guacharo, is of the size of the domestic fowl, 
and has, in some degree, the appearance of a vulture; 
the colom- of its plumage is a dark bluish-gray, spotted 
with black, and its wings, when expanded, measm'e 
three feet and a half. It lives on fruits, and quits the 
cave in the evening only. When the travellers had 
penetrated about 460 feet into the cavern, the distant 
screams of these birds became audible; and at the 
same time it was found necessary to light the torches. 

"It is difl&cult," says Humboldt, "to form an idea of 
the frightful noise made by thousands of these birds 
in the dark part of the cavern: it can be compared 
only to that of our crows, which, in the fir-forests of 
the north, live in society, and build their nests in trees 
which meet at the top. The shrill and piercing tones 
of the guacharo reverberate from the arched roof, and 
echo repeats them in the depths of the cavern. The 
Indians, by fixing torches to the end of a long pole, 
pointed out to us the nests of these birds ; they were 
fifty or sixty feet above our heads, in funnel-shap)ed 
holes, with which the whole roof of the grotto is rid- 
dled. The noise increased with our advance, and 
with the alarm of the birds at the flare of our copal 
torches. When it ceased for a few minutes around 
lis, we heard distant moans from other branches of 


the cavern. The different flocks might be said to 
give alternate responses. 

'•The Indians go once a year into the Cueva del 
Gruacharo, about IMidsummer, furnished with poles, 
with which they destroy the greater part of the nests. 
At this time many thousand birds are killed, and the 
old ones, as if to protect their broods, hover over the 
heads of the Indians, uttering the most dreadful 
shrieks. The young that fall to the ground are ripped 
oiDcn immediately. The peritoneum is thickly loaded 
with an unctuous substance, and a layer of fat runs 
from the abdomen to the anus, forming a kind of 
cushion between the birds' thighs. This abundance 
of fat in frugivorous animals not exposed to the light, 
and having few muscular motions, reminds us of the 
inclination to obesity long observed in geese and oxen. 
We know how very much darkness and repose favour 
this process. European bhds of night are meagre, 
because, instead of feeding on fruit, like the guachara, 
they live on the scanty produce of the chase. At the 
period commonly termed the oil-harvest, the Indians 
construct little habitations of palm-leaves close to the 
opening, and even in the mouth of the cavern. We 
saw some remains of such still standing. Here, ovei' 
a fire of dry sticks, the grease of the young birds just 
killed is melted, and run into pots of white clay. This 
grease, known by the name of guacharo butter, or oil, 
is semi-Uquid, transparent, and inodorous; and so 
pure, that it may be kept more than a twelvemonth 
without becoming rancid. At the convent of Caripe, 
no oil but that of the cavern was used in the monks' 
kitchen, and we never found it give to the dish either 
a disagreeable taste or smell.'*' 
. The Indians have a superstitious di-ead of penetrating 


far into this cavern, believing that the souls of their 
ancestors inhabit its deep recesses; on this account, our 
travellers were unable to advance into it much beyond 
a quarter of a mile, but as far as they went they found 
it to preserve the same du-ection, breadth, and height, 
as at the entrance. To the same feeling on the part 
of the Indians the guacheros owe theu' safety; they 
would otherwise ha^e been pursued into their retreats, 
and destroyed long ago. On the present occasion, 
two specimens of the bu'd were obtained by shooting 
at random in the dark. 

The travellers remained some days at the convent 
of Caripe, actively engaged in examining the natural 
features and productions of the smTounding country. 
On the 22nd of September, they took their departui'e, 
and began to descend the mountains, towards the sea- 
coast. They passed in safety a very steep and slippery 
declivity, to which the missionaries had given the name 
of Purgatory, and down which the mules are accus- 
tomed to slide boldly, drawing back their bodies over 
theu' hind legs. They soon afterwards entered a 
dense forest, that of Santa Maria, — and were for some 
time occupied in descending through a ravine by a path 
formed of steps two or thi'ee feet high. The mules 
leaped down like goats; but our travellers, less confi- 
dent than the natives, preferred walking to remaining 
in the saddle during this hazardous operation. 

The trees in the forest of Santa Maria attracted 
attention, from their vast size. Some were seen whose 
height exceeded 130 feet, and others, whose diameter 
was upwards of nine feet. The splendour and magnifi- 
cence of the vegetation were remarkable. The ferns 
assumed the form and magnitude of trees; and iive 


new arborescent species of this plant were discoYered 
here, while, in the days of Linnecus, botanists were 
acquainted with only four on the two continents. 

*•■ Fern-trees/' says Hnniboldt, '-'arc observed to be 
generally much more rare than palms, nature having 
confined them to mild, humid, and shady situations. 
They shun the vertical rays of the sun; and, Avhilst the 
Pumos, the Corypha of the 8teppes, and others of the 
palm tribe of America, delight in the open burning 
plains, these arborescent ferns, which viewed afar off 
look like palms, retain the characteristics and habits of 
cryptogamous plants. They prefer solitude, twilight, 
and a moist, temperate, and stagnant atmosphere. If, 
occasionally, they descend toward the coast, it is only 
under the safeguard of a dense shade. The old trunks 
of the Cyathea and Meniscium are coated with a coal- 
like powder, Mhich (free, perhaps, from hydrogen,) has 
a metallic lustre like graphite: no other species of 
vegetation presented this phenomenon; for the trunks 
of the Dicotyledons, notwithstanding the fierce heat of 
the climate, and the intensity of the light, are not 
blackened so much between the tropics as in the tempe- 
rate zone. The trunks of tlie ferns, which, like the 
Monocotyledons, increase in bulk by the remains of the 
petioles, may be said to commence their decay towards 
the centre, and that, being deprived of cortical vessels, 
by which the elaborated juices descend to the roots, 
they are more readily charred by the oxygen of the 
atmosphere. I brought to Europe specimens of these 
lustrous metallic powders, taken from very old trunks 
of Meniscium and Aspidium. As we progressively 
descended the mountain of Santa Maria, we found the 
ferns diminish, and the number of palms increase. • 


The beautiful large-winged butterflies, the Nymphalse, 
which fly to an amazing height, became more frequent. 
lEyerything announced our approach to the coast/' 

After a toilsome journey, they arrived in the evening 
at the mission of Vera Cruz; and on the following day, 
resuming their route towards the sea-coast, reached 
the station of Catuaro, occupying a wild and romantic 
situation in the midst, as it were, of a forest. Lofty 
trees still surrounded the church, and, at night-time, 
the tigers prowled about the settlement, in quest of the 
hogs and poultry of the Indians. They lodged at the 
house of the missionary, a doctor in theology, described 
as a little meagre man, of a petulant vivacity, queru- 
lous, dissatisfied, and possessed of an unhappy passion 
for what he called metaphysics. He talked continually 
of a law-suit, in which he was engaged with the supe- 
rior of his convent, and was anxious to know what 
Humboldt though of free-will, and the souls of ani- 
mals. The corregidor of the district furnished them 
with three Indians, to assist in cutting a way through 
the close vegetation of the forests ; and the missionary, 
accompanying them on the road, explained his peculiar 
notions concerning the innate wickedness of blacks, 
and the benefits which they derived from being kept in 
a state of slavery by Christians. 

After a fatiguing march, our travellers reached the 
town of Cariaco, seated upon the gulf of that name. 
Here they found a large number of the inhabitants 
suffering from intermittent fevers, which sometimes 
assumed a malignant character. The situation of the 
place accounts for its unhealthiness ; it lies low, the 
heat and moisture are excessive, and the stagnant 
marshes generated in the surrounding district during 
the rainy season, are a fertile source of noxious exha- 



lations. Humboldt particularly regretted the insalu- 
brity of Cariaco, as many of its inhabitants appeared to 
possess more easy manners and more enlarged ideas 
than those of any other place which he had visited. 

Thinking it prudent to leave Cariaco, as soon as 
possible, our travellers departed for Cumana early in 
the morning, embarking on the Gulf of Cariaco. Their 
voyage was disagreeable in consequence of the unfa- 
vourable nature of the weather and the crowded state 
of their narrow canoe, which carried, besides passen- 
gers, raw sugar, plantains, and cocoa-nuts. The cocoa- 
tree is cultivated to a veiy considerable extent on the 
shores of this gulf; whole plantations of it being seen 
there. It is in the vicinity of the sea that this kind of 
palm is found to prevail in the greatest abundance; 
and Humboldt says, that when it is planted in the 
Missions of the Orinoco, a certain quantity of salt is 
always thrown into the hole which receives the nut. 
He obseiwes, likewise, that of the plants cultivated by 
man, only the sugar-cane, the plantain, the manmiea- 
appel, and the alligator-pear, enjoy in common with 
the cocoa, the property of enduring irrigation with 
fresh or with salt water. 

In the part of Humboldt's Xarrative which we have 
now reached, some space is devoted to an account of 
the different native tribes inhabiting New Andalusia, 
and more especially of the Chayma Indians, among 
whom his late excursion had chiefly lain. In this part 
of the new continent, the aborigines still form a large 
proportion of the scanty po]3ulation. In the temperate 
regions of North America, the indigenous population 
has dwindled away in proportion as the white men have 
advanced among them; in the equinoctiak-regions of 
South America, the same results have not followed. 


In the former, the Indians, averse to agriculture, live 
by hunting, and therefore require for their subsistence 
avast extent of country; the encroachments of Euro- 
peans, narrowing their territory, have diminished their 
means of subsistence, and consequently their numbers. 
In South America, on the other hand, where agriculture 
existed long before the arrival of Europeans, and still 
exists in districts in which they have not yet established 
themselves, a small tract affords subsistence to a large 
population; therefore the intrusion of Europeans has 
not affected them in the same manner as in North 
America. In parts of Central America, where under 
the old Mexican empire, agriculture was practised for 
centm^ies before the arrival of Europeans, and more 
generally resorted to as affording the means of sub- 
sistence than in the equinoctial regions of South 
America, the Indians constitute a much larger propor- 
tion of the population. 

The missions established in New Andalusia since the 
middle of the seventeenth century, have been the 
means of reducing the Indians to a sort of civilization, - 
The difference between the loi^cZ and the civiUzedlndiaiiB 
is not, however, always such as the words would imply. 
Many of the former live by agriculture : and many of 
the latter, though they have been baptized, are as little 
entitled to the appellation of Christians as their heathen 
brethren. By means of the missions, civilization has 
advanced from the coast towards the interior; the 
planters have followed in the train of the missionaries, 
villages have been formed about the missions, and the 
manners and language of the original inhabitants have 
been giving way before those of their European masters. 
Fourteen different tribes of Indians are mentioned as 
inhabiting the provinces of New Andalusia and Bar- 

D 2 


celona; and even in the missions, they retain their 
characteristics unchanged, although they all there lead 
the same kind of life. There is nothing particularly 
remarkable in the habits of these tribes. The Guaranos 
who inhabit the delta of the Orinoco are worthy of 
notice, on account of the singularity of their dwellings, 
which are elevated on trees, in order to gain security 
from the inundations of the river. The nature of their 
country enables them to enjoy a greater degree of 
independence than other tribes. 

Humboldt concludes his notice of this subject with 
some interesting remarks concerning the supposed in- 
fluence of climate, and other external agents upon the 
colour of races. In speaking of the division of the 
natives of the ISTew World into two classes, — the Esqui- 
maux, whose skin is originally white, — and the copper- 
coloured class, which includes all the others, — ^he says, 
'•' Those nations which have white skins begin their 
cosmogony with white men ; according to them, negroes 
and dark-coloured people have been blackened or 
embrowned by the intense heat of the sun. This 
theory, adopted by the Greeks, though not without op- 
position, has descended to our own times, Buflfbn has 
repeated in prose what Theodectes said in verse two 
thousand years before, ' that nations wear the livery of 
the climates they inhabit.' If history had been penned 
by Negroes, they would have maintained what Euro- 
peans themselves have latterly advanced, that man was 
originally black, or of a deep olive colour; that he be- 
came white in some races, by civilization and progres- 
sive deterioration, in the way that animals in the 
domestic state pass from dark to lighter shades. In 
plants and animals, accidental varieties formed under 
our own eyes are become fixed, and are propagated 


without alteration; but in the present state of human 
organization, there is no proof of the different races 
of men, black, yellow, copper-coloured, and white, 
deviating materially from the primitive type by the 
influence of climate, food, or other exterior agents." 
Referring to the Spanish traveller and philosopher, 
Ulloa, our author continues: "This learned man has 
seen the Indians of Chili, of the Andes, of Peru, of the 
scorching coasts of Panama, and also those of Louisi- 
ana, which is situated under the northern temperate 
zone. He had the advantage of living at a period when 
theories were not so common as in the present day; 
and, like me, he was surprised at finding the indige- 
nous native, under the line, as dark and swarthy in the 
cold region of the Cordilleras as in the plains. When 
we observe differences of colour, they are peculiar to 
the race. We shall presently find on the fiery banks 
of the Orinoco, Indians with skins inclining to white." 

Chapter IV. 

Residence at Cumana— The travellers attacked by a Zambo— Eclipse of 
the sun— Singular phenomena— an earthquake— Remarkable dis- 
play of fire-balls and falling stars. 


After their return to Cumana, our travellers remained 
in that city for a month, engaged in preparing for the 
long expedition which they were about to undertake on 
the Orinoco and the Rio Negro. Their stay afforded 
them an opportunity of observing an eclipse of the sun, 
and of comparing the result with the chronometer, — an 
advantage of great importance, considering that one of 


the main objects of their journey was to determine with 
precision"geographical positions. An accident, how- 
ever, had well nigh marred their hopes. On the even- 
ing of the 27th of October, (the day preceding the 
eclipse), the travellers went out to take the air accord- 
ing to their practice. Crossing the beach which sepa- 
rates the suburb of the Guayquerias from the landing- 
place they heard the sound of footsteps behind; turn- 
ing round, they beheld a tall Zambo, who advancing 
quickly, flourished a great palm tree over Humboldt's 
head. The latter leaped aside, and avoided the formi- 
dable weapon; Bonpland, less fortunate, was felled to 
the earth by a blow on the temple. After Humboldt 
had assisted his companion to rise, the two pursued their 
assailant, who had run off with the hat of one of them ; 
the ruflBian on being seized drew a long knife from his 
trousers, but as some Biscayan merchants, who had 
been walking on the shore, advanced to the travellers' 
aid, he again took to flight, and sought refuge in a cow- 
house, whence he was conducted to prison. Bonpland 
had a fever in the night, but quickly recovered. The 
Zambo afterwards made his escape from prison, and 
the motive of his attack was never ascertained. 

On the 28th the eclipse occurred ; for several days, 
both before and after it, some very remarkable atmo- 
spheric phenomena were observed. It was the season of 
what is called winter in those countries; that is to 
say, of clouds andslight electric showers. From the 10th 
cf October to the 3d of November, a reddish vapour 
rose in the evening above the horizon, and covered, in 
a few minute s, as with a veil, the whole vault of the 
heavens. This mist sometimes disappeared in the night 
for a time, when masses of brilliantly white clouds 
formed in the zenith, once so transparent that even 


tlie smaller stars were seen through it, and the spots 
on the moon were clearly distinguished. 

"From the 28th of October, to the 3rd of Novem- 
ber," says Humboldt, "the reddish mist had become 
denser than it had yet been ; the heat of the night was 
oppressive, although the thermometer was no higher 
than seventy-eight degrees. The breeze which gene- 
rally cools the air about eight or nine at night, did not 
spring up. The atmosphere appeared on fire; and the 
burnt and dusty ground vras cleft in all directions. 
On the 4th of November, about two in the afternoon, 
thick clouds of extraordinary blackness enveloped the 
lofty mountains of the Brigantine and the Tataraqual. 
They extended by degrees to the zenith. About fom*, 
we heard sharp and broken thunder over our heads, 
though at immense height. At twelve minutes past 
four, the moment of the strongest electric explosion, 
there were two shocks of an earthquake; the second 
followed after an interval of fifteen seconds. The 
people ran shrieking into the streets. Mr. Bonpland, 
who was leaning over a table examining some plants, 
was almost thrown down. I felt the second shock 
violently, though lying stretched in my hammock. 
What is rare at Cumana, its direction was from north 
to south. Some slaves, who were drawing water from 
a well more than twenty feet deep, close to the Rio 
Manzanares, heard a report like the explosion of a 
strong charge of gunpowder. It seemed to come from 
the bottom of the well; a very singular phenomenon, 
though sufficiently known indeed in most of the coun- 
tries of America that are subject to earthquakes." 

A few minutes before the first shock, there was a 
violent gust of wind; large drops of rain, an electric 
shower followed, and then succeeded a dead calm. 


which continued all night. In this thick gloom, the 
setting of the sun, with its disc enormously enlarged, 
distorted and undulating, against a back-ground of 
the colour of indigo, displayed a scene of extraordinary 
magnificence. The edges of the clouds were gilded, 
and the sky exhibited rays of the prismatic colours in 
extreme brilliance. About nine o'clock, a third shock 
was felt, much weaker than either of the preceding 
shocks, but accompanied by a subterranean noise. 
The inhabitants regarded the shocks of the earth- 
quake, the accompanying thunder, and the red vapour 
which had been seen for so many days, as being all the 
effect of the eclipse; the night preceding, the red va» 
pour had been so thick that the moon's place could be 
distinguished only by a large and beautiful halo. Not 
two years before this period, the city of Cumana had 
been almost wholly destroyed by an earthquake, and 
it was therefore not surprising that the people who 
looked upon the red mist and the failure of the even- 
ing breeze, as unfailing prognostics of disaster, should 
upon the present occasion, regard those phenomena 
accompanied by actual shocks, as the certain prede- 
cessors of another fatal calamity. Our travellers, 
whose reputation for science had already spread, were 
visited by many persons anxious to know whether 
their instruments indicated an approaching renewal of 
the shocks. On the following day, the gust of wind 
and the thunder recurred at exactly the same hour, 
unaccompanied, however, by any agitation; and the 
same phenomena were repeated for several days. This 
was the first earthquake which Humboldt had felt, 
and it made a strong impression upon him; but he 
afterwards became familiar with this terrific display of 
nature, until it excited in him little apprehension. 


A few days afterwards, there occui-ed another phe- 
nomenon which powerfully attracted the attention of 
the scientific travellers. The red yapour had ceased 
to obscure the sky on the evening of the 7th of 
November, and the atmosphere then re-assumed its 
usual purity. On the morning of the 12th, between 
two and three o'clock, Bonpland, who had risen to 
enjoy the freshness of the air, observed in the east a 
number of falling meteors of a very extraordinary 
kind. For the space of four hours, thousands of fire- 
balls and falling stars succeeded each other, preserving 
an invariable direction of from north to south. So 
numerous were they, that for about thirty degrees on 
each side of the east point, (or throughout a third of 
the heavens), there was not a space equal in extent to 
three diameters of the moon, which was not at every 
moment filled with them. All these meteors left long, 
luminous traces, the phosphorescence of which con- 
tinued for seven or eight seconds. Many of the fall- 
ing stars had a very distinct nucleus or body, from 
which proceeded sparks of extremely vivid splendour; 
the fire-balls appeared to burst as if by explosion, but 
the largest of them disappeared without scintillation. 
As the inhabitants of Cumana had risen before four 
o'clock to attend the first mass, they were witnesses 
of these phenomena which excited great alarm in the 
minds of the older portion, who called to mind that 
the di-eadful earthquake of 1766 had been preceded 
by similar appearances. As the morning advanced, 
the meteors became more rare ; yet even for a quarter 
of an hour after sunrise, there were a few distinguish- 
able by their splendid white light, and the rapidity of 
their motion; a circumstance considered, however, by 
Humboldt as the less extraordinay, since in 1788, in 


the city of Popayan, the interior apartments of the 
houses were strongly illuminated in the middle of the 
day by an enormous aerolite. 

Some time afterwards, when our travellers were en- 
gaged in their great expedition to the Rio Negro, they 
found that these meteors had been observed as far as 
the borders of Brazil under the equinoctial line, and 
compared to artificial fire- works. But this was nothing 
to what they learnt on their return to Europe ; namely, 
that the meteors of the 12tli of November had been 
visible over a portion of the globe comprising sixty- 
four degrees of latitude, and ninety-one degrees of 
longitude, having been seen, from various parts of the 
American continent, between the equator and Labra- 
dor, — likewise in Greenland, — and in Europe, near 
the German town of Weimar. From these facts, it 
was calculated that the height of the meteors above 
the earth's surface exceeded 1400 miles; and it was 
also inferred that they fell into the sea between Africa 
and South America to the west of the Cape Verd 
Islands. These deductions proceed upon the assump- 
tion that the meteors seen from so many places so 
remotely apart were the same; but their identity has 
been questioned by some, to whom it seems that their 
simultaneous appearance may be ascribed with far 
more probability to an identity of atmosphere, than 
of bodies moving through that atmosphere, at such 
distances from the earth's surface; as, according to the 
present state of our knowledge, it seems doubtful 
whether light or heat, or substance of any kind, could 
be sustained in a state so very much attenuated as it 
must necessarily be at such a height. Humboldt 
found falling stars to be more frequent in the equi- 
noctial regions than in the temperate zone. 


"Those natural philosophers," he says, "who have 
of late instituted such elaborate inyestigations into the 
nature of falling stars and their parallaxes, consider 
them as meteors belonging to the extreme limits of 
our atmosphere; as placed between the region of the 
aurora borealis and that of the lightest clouds. Some 
haye been seen not higher than fourteen thousand 
toises, about four leagues ; the most elevated appeared 
not to exceed thirty. They are frequently more than 
a hundred feet in diameter; and such is their rapidity, 
that they traverse a space of two leagues in a few 
seconds. Some have been measured which had a 
direction almost perpendicular, or which formed an 
angle of fifty degrees with the vertical line. This 
very remarkable circumstance led to the conclusion 
that falling stars are not aerolites, which after float- 
ing a long while in space, like the heavenly bodies, 
take fire upon accidentally entering om* atmosphere 
and fall to the earth." 

Chapter V. 

Departure from Cumana— Sensations on leaving it— Voyage along the 
coast — Unhealthiness of the low shores — Influence of mangroves, 
and other trees in causing it — Situation of La Guayra — Its exces- 
sive heat— Introduction of the yellow fever therein— Road thence 
to Caraccas, 


On the 18th of November, our travellers left Cumana 
on their main expedition. They proposed to proceed 
by sea to the town of La Guayra, which lies about three 
degrees westward; then to take up their abode in the 
neighbouring city of Caraccas until the termination of 
the rainy season, when they would pass into the inte- 
rior, and ascend the Orinoco as far as its junction with 


the Rio Negro; and descending tlie same river to 
Angostura, the capital of Spanish Guiana, thence 
return across the Llanos, or great plains, to the coast. 
They embarked in the evening, in one of the open 
boats which are emj)loyed in trading to the West India 
islands, and quickly descended the stream of the Man- 
zanares, the sinuosities of which are marked by cocoa- 
trees, as the windings of a river in our climate are 
by poplars and willows. The thorny bushes on its 
banks glitter in the night with luminous insects, 
although in the day-time they present nothing but 
leaves covered with dust. The number of phospho- 
rescent insects is greatly increased during the stormy 
months; and it is then delightful, says Humboldt, to 
observe the effect of these moving and deep red fires, 
which, reflected by the pellucid water, confound their 
figures with those of the starry vault of heaven. 

"We left the shores of Cumana," continues our 
author, "as if we had been old inhabitans. It was 
the first spot we had touched under a zone on which 
my thoughts had been fixed from my earliest youth. 
Nature, imder the climate of the Indies, gives birth to 
an imjjression so deep and powerful, that, after a few 
months' stay, we seem to have lived there a long suc- 
cession of years. In Euroi3e, the inhabitants of the 
north, and of plains, experience a similar sensation, 
when quitting, even after a transient visit, the shores 
of the Gulf of Naples, the delightful country between 
Tivoli and the Lake of Nemi, or the wild and awful 
scenery of the Upper A.lps and the Pyrenees. Yet 
throughout the temperate zone, there is but httle con- 
trast in the vegetable world. The pines and oaks 
which top the mountains of Sweden have a certain 
family likeness to those which flourish under the genial 


elimes of Greece and Italy. Between the tropics, on 
the contrary, in the lower regions of the two IndiaSj 
the whole face of nature is new and wonderful. In the 
plains, or in the gloom of the forests, the remembrance 
of Europe is almost effaced; for it is by vegetation that 
the character of scenery is determined ; it is this which 
acts upon the imagination by its mass, by the contrast 
of its forms, and by the splendour of its colours. Our 
new impressions, in proportion to their strength and 
freshness, destroy those we have hitherto received. 
Their force gives them the semblance of age. I appeal 
to those who, more sensible to the beauties of nature 
than to the charms of social life, have spent much time 
in the torrid zone. With what fond remembrance do 
they cherish for the remainder of their days, the spot 
where they first planted their foot ! A vague desh'e of 
seeing it again lingers in their thoughts to the most 
advanced period of life. Even now, Cumana and its 
dusty soil are oftener present to my imagination than 
all the wonders of Cordilleras. Under the soft sky of 
the south, the earth, even when nearly destitute of 
vegetation, derives beauty from the light and enchant- 
ing hues of the atmosphere. The sun does not merely 
illumine every object it colours, it throws round it an 
ethereal vapom-, which, without affecting the transpa- 
rency of the air, renders the tints more harmonious, 
tempers the power of the light, and sheds throughout 
nature that calm which is reflected on our souls. To 
explain this vivid impression, excited by the scenery of 
the two Indies, and this too upon coasts but thinly 
wooded, it may be sufficient to recal to mind, that the 
beauty of the sky from Naples to the equator, augments 
almost as much as from Provence to the south of Italy." 
The class of boats in one of which Humboldt had 


embarked, are thirty feet long, and not more than 
three feet high at the gunwale: they have no decks, 
and their lading is generally from 200 to 250 quintals. 
The sea is extremely rough between Cape Codera and 
La Guayi'a, and the boats carry an enoraious trian- 
gular sail which might be thought somewhat dangerous 
when gusts issue from the passes of the mountains, in 
sailing along the shore; nevertheless, during thirty 
years there had not been one of these boats lost in 
the passage from Cumana to La Guayra. The skill 
of the Guaiqueria* pilots is so great that shipwrecks 
are very rare, even in the frequent trips which they 
make from Cumana to Guadaloupe, or the Danish 
islands surrounded by breakers. 

" These voyages of 120 or 150 leagues," says Hum- 
boldt, " in an open sea, out of sight of land, are per- 
formed in boats without decks, in the manner of the 
ancients, without any observations of the meridian alti- 
tude of the sun, without charts, and, generally, without 
a compass. The Indian pilot directs his way at night 
by the pole-star, and in the day by the course of the 
sun and the wind, which he believes to be little variable. 
I have seen Guaiquerias and pilots, of the coast of the 
Zamboes, who could find the jDole-star by the direction 
of the pointers, alpha and heta of the Great Bear; and 
they seemed to me to steer less from the view of the 
13ole-star itself, than from the line drawn through these 
stars. It is sui-prising, that, at the first sight of land, 
they can find the island of Guadaloupe, Santa Cruz, 
or Porto Rico ; but the compensation of the errors ot 
their course is not always equally fortunate. The boats, 

* Tliis tribe of Indians are tlie most able and intrepid fisheiiaen of 
New Andalusia; they inhabit the island of Margaretta, the peninsula of 
Aaraya, and that suburb of Cumana which bears their name. 


if they fall to leeward in making land, beat up with 
great difficulty to the eastward, against the wind and 
the current. The pilots, in time of war, often pay 
dearly for their ignorance, and their neglect of the 
quadrant, since the priyateers cruize near those very 
capes which the boats of Terra Firma, when they miss 
their course, are obliged to make, in order to find out 
where they are." 

Embarking, then, in one of these boats, our travellers 
descended the stream of the Manzanarez, and, passing 
through its mouth, entered the Gulf of Cariaco. They 
soon enjoyed one of those beautiful sights which the 
phosphorescence of the ocean in tropical climates so 
often exhibits. The porpoises followed the boats in 
bands consisting of fifteen or sixteen; and as, in turning 
over, they struck the surface of the water with their 
tails, they produced a brilliant light, as of flames rising 
out of the sea. Each troop left behind it a luminous 
track, and as few sparks followed from the stroke of 
an oar, or the track of the boat, Humboldt supposed 
that the vivid phosphorescence which these animals oc- 
casioned was owing not merely to the stroke of their 
tails, bnt also to the gelatinous matter which envelopes 
their bodies, and which is detached by the waves. 

At midnight, they found themselves between some 
barren and rocky islands, rising like bastions in the 
middle of the sea, and forming two groups, called 
respectively the Caraccas, and Chimanas. The moon 
was above the horizon, and lighed up those cleft rocks, 
bare of vegetation, and of a fantastic aspect ; their 
height, which probably does not exceed 150 toises, then 
appeared very considerable. All these islands were 
entirely uninhabited; but upon one of the Caraccas 
were found wild goats, of a large size, brown, and 


extremely swift. "Our Indian pilot assured us," says 
Humboldt, "that their flesh has an excellent flavour. 
Thirty years ago, a family of whites settled on this 
island, and cultirated maize and cassava. The father 
alone survived his children. As his wealth had in- 
creased, he purchased two black slaves, and this was 
the cause of his misfortunes. By his slaves he was 
murdered. The goats became wild, but the cultivated 
plants did not. Maize in America, like wheat in Eu- 
rope, connected with man since his first migrations, 
appears to be preseiwed only by his care. We some- 
times see these nourishing gramina disseminate them- 
selves ; but when left to nature the birds prevent their 
reproduction by destroying the seeds. The two slaves 
of the isle of Caraccas long escaped punishment: it 
was difficult to ascertain a crime committed in so lonely 
a spot. One of these blacks is now the hangman at 
Cumana. He informed against his accomplice, and an 
executioner being wanted, he obtained pardon, on con- 
dition, according to the barbarous custom of the coun- 
try, of hanging all the prisoners on whom sentence of 
death had been j^ronounced long before. It seems 
difficult to believe that there are men sufficiently fero- 
cious to preserve their lives at this price, and execute, 
with their own hands to-day those whom they informed 
against yesterday.'' 

Our travellers anchored for a few hours in the road 
of New Barcelona, at the mouth of a river abounding 
in crocodiles, and went on shore for a short time. 
Resuming their voyage, at noon on the 19th, they 
found the sea become more agitated as they approached 
the formidable promontory, known by the name of 
Cape Codera, beyond which the water is generally 
much disturbed. The sickness of some of the pas- 


sengers, and the pilot's dread of privateers, induced 
them to anchor, on the morning of the 20th, in the Bay 
of Iliguerota, within about seven miles of Cape Codera. 

The sea was so shallow, that the smallest boat could 
not go close to the shore, and wading was an indispen- 
sable preliminary to landing. The travellers found a 
few huts inhabited by fishermen, whose livid com- 
plexion, together with the wretched appearance of their 
children, sufficiently indicated the unhealthiness of the 
spot. Its insalubrity was attributed to the exhalations 
from the mangroves which, with other trees covered 
the beach, and imparted to the water in contact with 
them a yellowish-brown tint, forming a distinct belt, 
along the coast. A faint and sickly smell was per- 
ceptible, such as is generally noticed among mangroves, 
and which many have supposed to arise from sulphu- 
retted hydrogen, disengaged in some process of decom- 
position. Humboldt collected some branches and roots,, 
and, on his arrival at Caraccas, instituted experiments, 
the result of which led him to think that the unheal- 
thiness was occasioned by the action of the moistened 
bark and fibre of the mangrove upon the atmosphere, 
and not of the brownish water that washed the shore. 
He observes, however, that noxious exhalations would 
always arise from a thick wood covering a muddy soil, 
even if the trees composing it possessed in themselves 
no deleterious property. 

"Whenever," he adds, "mangroves grow on the 
margin of the sea, the beach is peopled with multitudes 
of moUusca and insects. These animals prefer the 
shade and a faint light, and find shelter from the waves 
among the closely-interlaced roots, which rise, like 
lattice- work, above the surface of the water; shells 
attach themselves to the roots, crustaceous animals 



nestle in the hollow trunks ; the sea-weeds, which the 
wind and tide drive upon the shore, remain hanging 
upon the recurved branches. In this manner the 
maritime forests, by accumulating masses of mud 
among their roots, extend the domain of the continent; 
but, in proportion as they gain upon the sea, they 
scarcely experience any increase in breadth, their very 
progress becoming the cause of their own destruction. 
The mangroves, and the other plants with which they 
always associate, die as the ground dries, and when the 
salt-water ceases to bathe them. Centuries after, their 
decayed trunks, covered with shells and half-buried 
in the sand, mark both the route which they have 
followed in their migrations, and the limit of the land 
which they have wrested from the ocean." 

The passengers who had accompanied our travellers 
from Cumana, disliking to encounter the rough sea 
tlirough which lay the rest of the voyage, resolved to 
proceed to Caraccas by land. Bonpland followed their 
example; while Humboldt, continuing the voyage, in 
<^rder to take care of the instruments which had been 
-embarked in the boats, reached La Guayra on the 21st 

-of November. The' place is described by him as being 
rather a road than a harbour : it affords little protec- 
tion to ships, the loading of which is a task of difficulty. 
The sea is constantly agitated, and the ships suffer 
at once by the action of the wind, the tideways, the bad 
anchorage, and the worms. The lading is taken in with 

. difficulty, and the height of the swell prevents the em- 
barkation of mules, as at New Barcelona and Porto 

\Cabello. The free mulattoes and negroes, who carry 
the cacao on board the ships, are a class of men of very 
remarkable muscular strength. They go up to their 
niiddles through the water, and, what is well worthy of 

The M' an grove Tree 



attention, they have nothing to fear from the sharks 
which are so frequent in this harbour. "This fact 
seems connected," says Humboldt, "with what I have 
often observed between the tropics, relative to other 
classes of animals that live in society, for instance, 
monkeys and crocodiles. In the missions of the Ori- 
noco, and the River of Amazons, the Indians, who 
catch monkeys to sell, know very well that they can 
easily succeed in taming those which inhabit certain 
islands ; while monkeys of the same species, caught on 
the neighbouring continent, die of terror or rage, when 
they find themselves in the power of man. The croco- 
diles of one pool in the Llanos are cowardly, and flee, 
even in the water ; while those of another, attack with 
eltreme intrepidity. It would be difficult to explain 
this difference of manners and habits by the aspect of 
their respective localities. The sharks of the port of 
La Guayra seem to furnish an analogous example. 
They are dangerous and blood-thirsty at the island 
opposite the coast of Caraccas, at the Roques, at Bo- 
nayre, and at Curassao; while they forbear to attack 
persons swimming in the ports of La Guayra and. 
Santa Martha. The people, who, in order to simplify 
the explanation of natural phenomena, always have 
recourse to the marvellous, affirm that in both these 
places a bishop gave his benediction to the sharks." 

The city is compared with Santa Cruz, in Teneriffe; 
it stands on a strip of level ground, scarcely 650 feet 
broad, between the sea and a wall of steep rocks, and 
consists of two parallel streets. It has an appearance 
somewhat lonely and melancholy, seeming rather to be 
part of a rocky island, destitute of soil and vegetation, 
than to belong to a continent abounding in vast forests. 
The heat is excessive, owing in some degree to the 


faintness of the sea-breeze, and the radiation from the 
rocks behind the town. From a series of thermome- 
trical observations, it appeared that La Guayra was 
one of the hottest places on the globe. Its mean tem- 
perature for the year, together with that of some other 
l^laces, is given in the following list. 

La Guayra 82-6° (nearly) 

Cumana 81-8° 

Vera Cruz 77-7° 

Havannah 781' 

Rio Janerio 74-3'=' 

Santa Cruz (Teneriffe) ....71-4<=^ 

Caii-o 72*3° 

Rome tj04° 

Yet, though extremely hot. La Guayra was not con- 
sidered to be remarkably unhealthy. The mortality 
had never been considerable; the confluence of stran- 
gers on the coast of Caraccas was less than at the 
Havannah and at Vera Cruz. A few individuals, even 
Creoles and ]\Iulattoes, were sometimes taken off sud- 
denly by certain irregular remittent fev8r&^ they were 
generally men employed in the laborious task of cut-* 
ting wood in the forests. The malady, however, which 
attacked them was not propagated; and nowhere on 
the coast of Caraccas, had the real typhus of America, 
known as the black vomit and the yellow fever, been 
observed. Indeed, the only places at which this pecu- 
liar disease was known, on the whole coast of Terra 
Firma, were Porto Cabello, Carthagena, and Santa 
Martha. Spaniards newly arrived from the mother 
country were not afraid to reside at La Guayi-a, 
although they complained of the excessive heat which 
prevailed during a part of the year ; and many persons 
preferred its ardent but uniform climate, to the cool 
but extremely variable climate of Caraccas. 

"Since the year 1797, everything has changed. 
Commerce being opened to other vessels than those of 
the mother country, seamen born in colder climates 


than Spain, and consequently more sensible to the im- 
pressions of the climate of the torrid zone, began to 
frequent La Guayra. The yellow fever declared itself; 
North Americans, seized with the typhus, were received 
in the Spanish hospitals; and it was afiirmed that 
they had imported the contagion, and that, before they 
entered the road, the disease had appeared on board a 
brig which came from Philadelphia. The captain of 
the brig denied the fact, and asserted, that, far from 
having introduced this malady, his sailors had caught 
it in the port. We know, from what happened at 
Cadiz in 1800, how difficult it is to elucidate facts when 
their uncertainty serves to favour theories which are 
diametrically opposed. The more enlightened inhabit- 
ants of Caraccas and La Guayra divided in opinion, 
like the physicians in Europe and the United States, 
on the principle of contagion of the yellow fever, cited 
the instance of the same American vessel, to prove, 
some that the typhus fever came from abroad, and 
others that it took its birth in the country itself." 

Those who embraced the latter supposition, or that 
of the indigenous origin of the disease, refer to an 
extraordinary alteration caused in the constitution of 
the atmosphere of La Guayra by the overflowing of its 
river shortly before. This torrent, — the Rio de la 
Guayra, — which, in general, is not ten inches deep, was 
swelled, after sixty hours' rain in the mountains, in so 
extraordinary a manner, that it bore down trunks of 
trees, and masses of rock of considerable size. The 
depth of its waters became eight or ten feet, and their 
breadth thirty or forty. Many houses were can-ied 
away : and the inundation became more dangerous to 
the stores, in consequence of the gate of the town, 
where alone the waters could have found an issue, 


being accidentally shut. It was necessary to make a 
breach in the wall on the side of the sea: more than 
thirty persons perished, and the damage was computed 
at half a million of piastres. The stagnant waters 
which infected the stores, the cellars, and the dungeons 
of the public prison, doubtless diffused miasmata, which, 
as predisposing causes, may, Humboldt thinks, hare 
accelerated the developement of the yellow fever; but 
the river cannot, in his opinion, be regarded as the 
primary cause. At all events, whatever may have been 
the cause, it is certain that, since 1797, La Guayra has 
never been free from the visitations of this dreadful 
scourge, which has there proved veiy fatal to strangers, 
■ — as well Eiu'opeans newly arrived, as natives of the 
hot plains in the interior of South America. 

The road leading from La Guayra to Caraccas is said 
to resemble the passages of St. Gothard and the Great 
St. Bernard, over the Alps; the journey, however, is 
performed by mules in three hours, the distance being 
about twenty miles. The ascent is steep and laborious; 
at a point called the Salto, or leap, there is a crevice 
which is crossed by a drawbridge. Towards the sum- 
mit is La Venta de Guayavo, or the Inn of Guayavo, a 
sort of halting-place ; and on the summit itself, which 
bears the name of Las Vueltas, there are fortifications. 
On reaching the highest point, the road passes over a 
smooth table-land, from which the city of Caraccas is 
descried in a beautiful valley nearly 2000 feet lower. 

" The first time," says Humboldt, " of my crossing 
this table land on my way to the capital of Venezuela, 
I found a number of travellers, who were resting their 
mules, assembled round the little inn of Guayavo. 
They were inhabitants of Caraccas, and were wrangling 
about the insurrection in favour of independence, which 


had taken place a little time before. Joseph Espana 
had perished on the scaffold, and his wife was groaning 
in a cloister, for giving shelter to her wandering hus- 
band, and not denouncing him to the government. I 
was struck at the irritation of their minds, and with 
the acrimonious discussion of questions, upon which 
there ought never to be a difference of opinion among 
men of the same country. Whilst talking of the hatred 
of the mulattoes to the free negroes and the whites, 
of the wealth of the monks, and of the difl&culty of hold- 
ing the slaves in subjection, a cold wind, descending 
from the lofty summit of the Silla of Caraccas, en- 
veloped us with a thick mist, and put an end to the 
angry dispute. We took shelter in the Venta of Guay- 
avo. Upon entering the house, an old man, who had 
spoken with more calmness than the others, reminded 
them how imprudent it was, in these times of secret 
accusation, both on the mountain and in the city, to 
enter into political discussions. These words, delivered 
in a place so dreary, made a deep impression upon my 
mind; during our excursions to the Andes of New Gra- 
nada and Peru, impressions of the same kind were fre- 
quently renewed. In Europe, where nations decide 
their quarrels in plains, people climb the mountains, to 
find seclusion and liberty. In the New World, the Cor- 
dilleras are inhabited twelve miles up ; yet thither men 
carry with them their civil broils, and their low and 
hateful passions. Gambling-houses are established on 
the ridge of the Andes, on the spot where the discovery 
of mines has led to the formation of cities ; and in these 
vast wildernesses, almost above the region of snow, sur- 
rounded by objects calculated to elevate the mind, the 
news of the refusal by the court of a ribbon, or a title, 
often disturbs the happiness of whole families." 


Chapter VI. 

The city of Caraccas— Physical and social aspect of Venezuela— Native 
population — Description of Caraccas — Its climate— The adjoining 
mountains— Character of theinhabitants — Excursion to the summit 
oftheSilla — Difficulties of the journey— View from the summit— 
The descent— Gold and silver mines of Venezeula. 


At the present da}^, Caraccas is the capital of Vene- 
zuela, one of the three independent states which were 
formed a few years ago upon the breaking up of the 
great federal republic of Colombia: the others being 
New Granada and Ecuador. Duiung the existence of 
that republic, Caraccas was the chief city of a district 
of the same name. Previous to its formation, and 
•while the authority of the mother country prevailed, 
Cai-accas was the capital of a vast territory, known by 
the Spanish government as the Capitania General de 
Caraccas, and containing nearly a million of inhabitants, 
distributed among seven provinces; namely, those of 
New Andalusia, or Cumana, Barcelona, Venezuela, 
or Caraccas, Coro, and Maracaybo, on the coast; and 
those of Varinas and Guiana, in the interior. It was 
this political rank which Caraccas held when our tra- 
vellers yisited it. 

In its physical aspect, Venezuela presents three 
remarkable divisions ; distinct belts, as it were, stretch- 
ing in the dii'ection of its length, that is to say, from 
east to west. There is first, the belt of cultivated land, 
lying along the shore and at the foot of the mountains 
which approach it; secondly, the belt of savannahs or 
pasturages, lying behind the first; and thhdly, farthest 
from the coast, the belt of forests, a dense mass, pene- 
trable only by means of the rivers which traverse it. 
In these three zones, Humboldt fe\.c-? the picture of 


the three principal conditions of human society, more 
strongly marked than in any other region, — namely, 
the life of the wild hunter, in the woody region; the 
pastoral life, in the savannahs or plains ; and the agri- 
cultural life, in the cultivated district near the coast. 

The innermost of these three zones is described by 
Humboldt as presenting a melancholy picture of mi- 
sery and privation ; it is a region in which the " strong 
right arm of power" exercises a predominant influence. 
On the southern or extreme frontier, were a few ad- 
vanced posts occupied by missionaries and soldiers. 
The Indian tribes were engaged in perpetual hostilities ; 
the interference of the monks increased the dissensions 
among the natives; and the soldiers were always 
quarrelling with their ecclesiastical auxiliaries. In 
the pastoral region a tame uniformity prevails, the 
means of subsistence are extremely abundant, and the 
inhabitants living in huts partly covered with skins, 
exhibit little tendency towards civilization. The district 
of cultivated land is of course the most civilized; 
indeed, nothing indicating an advanced state of civili- 
zation is found except in this district, which extends 
along the coast upwards of seven hundred miles. 

The Indians in the Capitania of Caraccas form an 
inconsiderable part of the population; scarcely more, 
indeed, than one-ninth. It is observed, that it is only 
in those parts in which the conquerors found regular 
and long established governments, as in Mexico and 
Peru, that the natives form a large proportion of the 
agricultural residents; in Mexico, for example, the 
Indians constitute nearly one-half of the whole number. 
The black slaves are still fewer, forming only one 
fifteenth of the population; but they become important 
in consequence of their accumulation in one spot. 


The city of Caraccas, which was founded in 1567, is 
situated at the western end of the elevated valley of 
Chacao ; the ground on which it stands is uneven, and 
has a steep slope. The small river Guayra flows on 
the south side, and receives from the adjacent moun- 
tains three small streams, which traverse the city, and 
are crossed by numerous bridges. The streets, which 
are generally paved, are wide and straight, intersecting 
each other at right angles. The private houses are 
well-built, spacious and lofty; some being of brick, 
but the greater part of masonry. They are arranged 
after the fashion prevailing in Spain, the street front 
presenting almost bare walls, with one or two windows, 
while within are large court yards, into which the 
apartments open. 

The population of Caraccas has undergone great 
fluctuations within the last century. In 1766, the 
small-pox carried off from six to eight thousand persons. 
In 1800, the population was estimated at forty-five 
thousand, of whom eighteen thousand were whites, 
and twenty-seven thousand coloured. Before the 
great earthquake of 1812, the inhabitants amounted 
to about fifty thousand: but in that great calamity, 
twelve thousand persons are said to have perished. 
Civil dissensions, and the war with the mother country, 
occasioned a further reduction in later years ; and the 
earthquake of 1826, likewise contributed to its dimi- 
nution. At present the population is about thirty 

Before the earthquake of 1812, the city of Caraccas 
contained eight churches and five convents. The 
cathedral, standing in the Plaza Mayer, or Great 
Square, withstood that terrible commotion, but suffered 
considerable damage in the earthquake of 1826 ; it is 


described as an extensive and solid edifice, not remai'k- 
able, however, for architectural beauty. The theatre 
is capable of accommodating from one thousand five 
hundred to one thousand eight hundred persons; the 
pit, in which the men are separated from the women, 
is uncovered ; so that, as Humboldt says, " we may see 
at the same time, the actors and the stars." 

The climate of Caraccas is a perpetual spring; a 
national author has compared its site with that of the 
terrestrial paradise, and recognised in the Guayra river 
and its tributary torrents, the four rivers which 
watered the garden of Eden. What, indeed, as Hum- 
bold tasks, can be imagined more delicious than a tem- 
perature which ranges in the day-time from 68° to 79°, 
and in the night from 61° to 64°; and which is favour- 
able at once to the growth of the banana, the orange, 
the apple, the apricot, coffee, and wheat corn? Yet 
the temperature does not possess that stability which 
is common to places situated within the tropics, and 
the inhabitants complain of fi-equent considerable 
transitions, in the space of twenty-four hours. The 
difierence between the temperatui-e by day and that by 
night often amounts to 8° or 10°; and this, though it 
would but slightly affect us in our temperate climates, 
produces very unpleasant effects in a tropical region, 
especially on those who have been accustomed to the 
uniformity which generally prevails there*. 

The proximity of the lofty mountains of Avila and 
the Silla, imparts a dull and heavy character to the 

* The inhabitants of tropical regions are affected by slight changes of 
temperature, such as in our climates we should scarcely perceive. 
Mungo Park, in his travels in the hot countries of Africa, noticed the 
fact, that " the Africans are sensible of the smallest variation in the tem- 
perature of the air, and frequently complain of cold when an European 
\3*xj)pre8sed with heat. ' ' 


city, especially in the months of November and Decem- 
ber, when the evenings are misty. During the latter 
month, our travellers saw the mountain of the Silla 
free from clouds only five times. "But this prospect," 
says Humboldt, "so gloomy, so melancholy, — this con- 
trast between the serenity of morning and the cloudi- 
ness of evening, does not exist in the middle of sum- 
mer. In June and July, the nights are clear and 
delicious ; the atmosphere retains then that unbroken 
purity and transparency, which are peculiar to the 
table-mountains, and all the upland valleys in calm 
weather, so long as the winds mingle no currents of 
air of a different temperature. It is at this season 
that one enjoys all the beauty of a landscape which, 
at the end of January, I never saw perfectly clear, 
except for a few days. The two round heads of the 
Silla appear at Caraccas almost under the same angle 
of elevation, as the Pic of Teneriffe in the port of 
Orotava. The lower half of the mountain is clothed 
with a smooth turf; next comes the zone of evergreen 
shrubs, which a rosy light reflects at the flowering-time 
of the Befaria; the Alpine Rose-Bay of equinoctial 
America. Above this woody zone rise two huge rocky 
masses in the shape of cupolas. Destitute of vegeta- 
tion, they increase by their nudity the apparent height 
of a mountain, which, in the temperate part of Europe 
w^ould scarcely be considered in the line of perpetual 
snow. This, with the imposing aspect of the Silla, 
and the rugged disposition of the ground to the north 
of the town, are agreeably contrasted with the culti- 
vated r43gion of the vale, and the smiling plains of 
Chacao, of Petera, and La Yega." 

The stay of our travellers at Caraccas lasted two 
months, and they experienced throughout, the -greatest 


kindness from the iuliabitants, whose cheerfulness, 
affability, and politeness, are spoken of in high terms. 
They noticed among the people a particular predilec- 
tion for music, but a sad deficiency in every branch 
of scientific knowledge. An old man whom they 
met with in one of the convents, was the only person 
who had distinct notions on the state of modern 
astronomy ; and he used to calculate almanacs for the 
whole Capitania. There was not even a printing-oflftce 
in the city; the first was established in 1806, some 
time after their return to Europe. 

An excursion to the summit of the peaked mountain 
of the Silla, afforded them an opportunity of making 
many curious observations on the rocks, the vegetation, 
and the state of the atmosphere. To then- surprise, 
they were unable to find a single individual who had 
visited the top of that mountain; but being furnished 
by the governor with negro attendants who knew some- 
thing of the way, they set out on the 2nd of January, 
1800. Passing the night at a coffee plantation, near 
a ravine, they started early in the morning, and in two 
hours reached a promontory, from which a narrow 
ridge or dyke led to the body of the mountain. Pro- 
ceeding along the ridge, with a deep valley covered 
with picturesque vegetation on either hand, they 
reached a point where the inclination became very 
steep ; the ascent was here extremely difficult, the sui'- 
face being a hard rock, and the short grass affording 
no support when laid hold of. Up to this point the 
travellers had been accompanied by several of the citi- 
zens of Caraccas, who were desirous of visiting the 
summit of the Silla; less enthusiastic, however, than 
our philosophers, their companions quailed before the 
incipient difficulties of the journey, and retired when 


it became arduous to advance. The negro guides, whose 
loquacity contrasted strikingly with the taciturn gravity 
of the Indians who had attended the travellers during 
their excursion among the missions, amused themselves 
at the expense of the deserters, and especially of a 
young Capuchin monk, a professor of mathematics, who 
had promised to fire off rockets from the top of the 
mountain, by way of announcing to the people of 
Caraccas, that the ascent had been accomphshed. 

The mountain which our travellers were ascending, 
presents at its top, two peaks with a depression 
between them; from this peculiarity of formation, it 
has derived the appellation of the Silla, or Saddle. The 
eastern summit being the higher, was of course that 
to which they directed their course; the only access to 
it was by the depression already mentioned, and to 
reach this they were obliged to climb over a part of 
the western summit. We have said that the season 
was one in which mists prevailed; and before they 
reached the body of the mountain, indications of a 
dense fog were apparent. 

The steep and slippery ascent continued until the 
travellers had reached an elevation of nearly a mile and 
a quarter above the level of the sea, or three quarters 
of a mile above the level of the valley in which Carac- 
cas stands. Up to this point, their route lay through 
savannahs, or pasture-grounds, in which they expected 
to find a native rose-bush; but here, as afterwards in 
the Andes, their search proved vain, and Humboldt 
doubts if this plant is to be found wild in any part of 
South America, or even of the whole southern hemi- 
sphere. When the savannahs terminated, they entered 
a small forest, where the declivity became less steep, 
and they were gratified with the sight of rare and 


beautiful plants in abundance. Entering another 
savannah, they crossed a part of the western summit, 
and descended into the depression separating it from 
the eastern one, cutting their way thi-ough the dense 
vegetation which they encountered. Suddenly, how- 
ever, a thick mist surrounded them, and they deemed 
it prudent to stop, as they were approaching that 
j)art of the mountain where it forms a precipice six 
thousand feet deep. When the negroes Avho had 
carried their provisions came up, they partook of a 
scanty repast of bread and olives. 

It was now about two o'clock in the afternoon. 
Thinking it practicable to reach the summit before 
sun-set, the travellers resolved to push forwards, and 
then to return and pass the night in the hollow between 
the two peaks; with this view they sent back a portion 
of their attendants to fetch them a supply of salt beef. 
Suddenly, a strong east wind began to blow, and the 
vapour which enveloped them disappeared in less than 
two minutes. They started onwards: and passing- 
close to the great precipice, found themselves in three 
quarters of an hour, upon the top of the Silla. 

*• Having gained the summit, we enjoyed, though 
but for a few minutes, the heavens in all their serenity. 
Our eyes stretched over a vast extent of country, 
plunging at once upon the sea in the north, and upon 
the fertile valley of Caraccas in the south . We were 
at an elevation of 1350 toises (8633 feet). An 
expanse of sea, of thirty-six leagues radius, is embraced 
in one view. Those who are apt to become dizzy, 
on looking down great depths, should remain in the 
middle of the small flat on the summit of the eastern 
cupola of the Silla. The mountain is not remarkably 
high, being nearly eighty toises lower than that of 



Canigoii ; but what distinguislies it from all the moun- 
tains I have crossed, is its immense precipice on the 
side of the sea. The shore forms but a narrow 
edging, and, in looking from the top of the pyramid 
upon the houses of Caravellada, the wall-sided rocks, 
by an optical illusion of which I have often spoken, 
appear almost perpendicular. The true inclination 
of the slope appeared to me, by an accurate calculation, 
53° 23'. The mean inclination of the Pic of Teneriffe 
is hardly 12° 30'. A precipice of six or seven miles, 
like that of the Silla of Caraccas, is a phenomenon 
much rarer than is imagined by those who traverse 
mountains without measuring their height, bulk, or 
declivity. Since the revival, in several parts of 
Europe, of experiments upon the fall of bodies, and 
upon their deflexion to the south-east, a wall-sided 
rock, 250 toises of perpendicular height, has been 
sought in vain thi'oughout all the Alps in Swisser- 
land. The slope of Mont Blanc to the Allee Blanche 
does not make an angle even of 45°, although, in 
most geological works, ]Mont Blanc is described as 
cut straight down on the south." 

After a short stay on the summit, in the midst of 
which a dense fog arose, our travellers began their de- 
scent: and, abandoning their original intention of pass- 
ing the night in the hollow, entered the savannah as 
it became dark. "As there is scarcely any twilight 
betwixt the tropics," says Humboldt, "perfect daylight 
is followed by sudden darkness. The moon was in 
the horizon; her face was covered from time to time 
by heavy clouds driven by a cold impetuous wind. 
The steep declivities, clothed with yellow, withered 
grass, were at one time wrapped in obscurity, then 
suddenly illumined; they looked like precipices. 


Silver IJine. 


which the eye vainly sought to fathom. We pro- 
ceeded in a long file, endeavouring to assist each other 
with our hands, to prevent rolling down in case of 
stumbling. The guides who carried our instruments 
left us, one by one, to go and sleep in the mountain. 
Among those who remained, was a Congo negro, 
who excited my admiration by the skill with which 
he carried upon his head a large dipping-needle, 
keeping it always in equilibrium, notwithstanding the 
great steepness of the rocks. The mist began to clear 
away from the bottom of the valley. The lights which 
we saw scattered beneath us produced a double illu- 
sion, the steeps seeming still more dangerous than they 
really were, and, during six hours of continual descent, 
we constantly fancied ourselves near the farm-houses 
at the foot of the Silla. We heard, very distinctly, 
human voices, and the shrill tones of guitars. Gene- 
rally speaking, so strong is the upward propagation of 
sound, that, in an aerostatic balloon, the barking of 
dogs may sometimes be heard at the height of 3000 
toises." In illustration of this last observation, it may 
be mentioned, that at the Cape of Good Hope, from 
the edge of the Table Mountain, which is 3600 feet 
high, and the upper part of which rises perpendicu- 
larly at the distance of about a mile from Cape Town, 
every noise made in the town, and even the word of 
command on the parade, may be distinctly heard. 

Venezuela has never produced the precious metals 
in any abundance. At an early period after the con- 
quest attempts v/ere made by the Spaniards to work 
gold and silver mines, but were soon abandoned, in 
consequence of the scanty returns, and the high price 
of labour. Humboldt, however, thinks that the ques- 
tion, whether Venezuela contains mines worth the 


trouble of working them, is by no means decided. He 
observes, that, although in countries where laboui' is 
dear, the care of the government should unquestion- 
ably be fii'st devoted to the cultivation of the soil, yet 
the example of Mexico sufficiently proves that the 
working of metals does not always impede the progress 
of agricultural industry. "The most highly-cultiva- 
ted plains of Mexico," he says, "those which recall to 
the recollection of travellers the most beautiful fields 
of France and the south of Germany, extend from 
Silao towards the Villa de Leon; they border on the 
mines of Guanaxuato, which alone produce the sixth 
part of all the silver of the New World." 

Chapter VII. 

Eai'thquake at Caraccas in 1812 — Subterranean commotions in America 
in 1811 and 1812— Destruction of the city— lamentable loss of life- 
Exhumation of the wounded — Moral effects of the calamity — Wide 
extent of the earthquake. 

Twelve years after the visit of our travellers to Ca- 
raccas, nine-tenths of the city were destroyed by that 
most terrible of natural phenomena, — an earthquake. 
Of this calamitous event, Humboldt collected all the 
trustworthy information which he could obtain; the 
result of his inquiries forms one of the most interesting 
portions of his narrative. At the time of his visit, a 
general opinion prevailed that the easternmost parts 
and coasts of the provinces of New Andalusia, New 
Barcelona, and Caraccas, were the most exposed to the 
destructive effects of earthquakes. The inhabitants 
of Cumana dreaded the Valley of Caraccas, on account 
of its damp and variable climate, and its gloomy and 


foggy sky; wliile the inhabitants of that temperate 
valley considered Ciimana as a town where only a 
burning air was breathed, and where the soil was 
periodically agitated by violent commotions. '-'Cruel 
experience destroyed, in 1811, the charm of theory 
and popular opinions. Caraccas, situated in the 
mountains, three degrees to the west of Cumana, and 
five degrees west of the volcanoes of the Caribbee 
Islands, has felt greater shocks than were ever experi- 
enced on the coast of Paria, or New Andalusia." 

The reader is probaby aware, that, sometimes an 
earthquake is felt over an immense tract of country: 
that which, a few years ago, destroyed the town of 
Concepcion, in Chile, extended over thirteen degrees 
of latitude. The memorable earthquake which almost 
destroyed Lisbon, on the 1st of November, 1755, was 
felt in the smaller West India Islands, (the Lesser An- 
tilles,) the shock occurring four minutes later than in 
the Portuguese capital. In the same islands volcanic 
eruptions took place in 1797, when Cumana was des- 
troyed by an earthquake. Humboldt was much struck 
by the cdnnexion between these two events, and he 
has collected a multitude of facts, to show, what he 
styles " the relations which link together valcanoes of 
the same group." 

The earthquake of Caraccas, in 1812, was one of a 
series of subterranean commotions, which, from the 
beginning of 1811 till 1813, agitated a vast extent of 
the earth's surface, limited by the valley of the Ohio 
on the north, the coasts of Venezuela on the south, the 
Cordilleras of New Granada on the west, and the meri- 
dian of the Azores Islands on the east, and thus com- 
prising thirty-one degrees of latitude, and sixty degrees 
of longitude. In this period, a variety of phenomena 


were observed, indicating, apparently, "communica- 
tions at enormous distances." On the 30th of Ja- 
nuary, 1811, a submarine volcano began to operate 
near St. Michael's, one of the Azores; and at a place 
-where the sea was sixty fathoms deep, a rock appeared 
above the surface. At first, this new islet was nothing 
more than a shoal, but on the 15th of January, an 
eruption, which lasted six days, enlarged its extent 
and carried it progressively to the height of fifty 
toises. It was taken possession of in the name of 
the British Government, but afterwards disappeared; 
having aff'ordcd the third example of this extraordi- 
nary action of submarine volcanoes, near the Island 
of St Michael. About the same time, the smaller 
West India Islands, situated 800 leagues to the south- 
west of the Azores, experienced frequent earthquakes. 
From the month of May, 1811, to that of April, 
1812, more than 200 shocks were felt in the Island 
of St. Vincent, one of the three in which there are 
still active volcanoes. The commotion extended like- 
wise to the portion of the continent north of the 
Gulf of Mexico. From the 16th of December, 1811, 
the earth was for some time almost incessantly agita- 
ted in the Valleys of the Mississippi, the Arkansas, 
and the Ohio ; the oscillations being accompanied by 
a great subterraneous noise, coming from the south- 
west. At places, between Xew Madrid and Little 
Prairie, as at the Sabine, north of Cincinnati, in lati- 
tude 37° 45', the shocks were felt every day, nay 
almost every hour, during several months. 

In the month of December, 1811, the town of 
Caraccas felt the first shock, in calm and serene wea- 
ther; and this was the only one which preceded the 
dreadful catastrophe of the 26th of March, 1812. 


**The inhabitants of Terra Firma," says Humboldt, 
"were ignorant of the agitation which, on the one 
hand, the volcano of the Island of St. Vincent had 
experienced, and, on the other hand, the Basin of the 
Mississippi, where, on the 7th and 8th of February, the 
ground was, day and night, in a state of continual 
oscillation. At this period, a great drought prevailed 
in the province of Venezuela. Not a single droj) of 
rain had fallen at Caraccas, or in the country ninety 
leagues round, during the five months which preceded 
the destruction of the capital. The 26th of March was 
a remarkably hot day. The air was calm, and the sky 
unclouded. It was Holy Thursday, and a great part of 
the population was assembled in the churches. Nothing 
seemed to presage the calamities of the day. At seven 
minutes after four in the afternoon, the first shock was 
felt; it was sufficiently powerful to make the bells of 
the churches toll; it lasted five or six seconds, during 
which time the ground was in a continual undulating 
movement, and seemed to heave up like a boiling 
liquid. The danger was thought to be past, when a 
tremendous subterraneous noise was heard, resembling 
the rolling of thunder, but louder, and of longer con- 
tinuance, than that heard within the tropics in time of 
storms. This noise preceded a perpendicular motion 
of three or four seconds, followed by an undulatory 
movement, somewhat longer. The shocks were in op- 
posite directions, from north to south, and from east to 
west. Nothing could resist the movement from beneath 
upward, and undulations crossing each other. The 
town of Caraccas was entirely overthrown. Thousands 
of the inhabitants (between nine and ten thousand) 
were buried under the ruins of the houses and chmxhes. 
The procession had not yet set out; but the crowd was 


SO great in the churches, that nearly three or four 
thousand persons were crushed by the fall of their 
vaulted roofs. The explosion was stronger towards the 
north, in that part of the town situate nearest the 
mountain of Avila, and the Silla. The churches of La 
Trinidad and Alta Gracia, which were more than one 
hundred and fifty feet high, and the naves of which 
were supported by pillars of twelve or fifteen feet dia- 
meter, left a mass of ruins scarcely exceeding five or 
six feet in elevation. The sinking of the ruins has been 
so considerable, that there now scarcely remain any 
vestiges of pillars or columns. The barracks, called El 
QiKcrtel de San Carlos, situate farther to the north of 
the church of the Trinity, on the road from the custom- 
house de la Pastora, almost entu'ely disappeared. A 
regiment of troo]3s of the line, that was assembled 
under arms, ready to join the procession, was, with the 
exception of a few men, buried under the ruins of this 
great edifice. Nine-tenths of the fine town of Caraccas 
were entirely destroyed. The walls of the houses that 
were not thrown down, as those of the street St. Juan, 
near the Capuchin Hospital, were cracked in such a 
manner, that it was impossible to run the risk of inha- 
biting them. The effects of the earthquake were some- 
what less violent in the western and southern parts of 
the city, between the principal square and the ravine of 
Caraguata. There, the cathedral, supported by enor- 
mous buttresses, remains standing. 

" In estimating at nine or ten thousand the number 
of the dead in the city of Caraccas, we do not include 
those unhappy persons, who, dangerously wounded, 
perished several months after, for want of food and 
proper care. The night of Holy Thursday presented 
the most distressing scene of desolation and sorrow. A 


thick cloud of dust, which rising above the ruins, 
dai'kened the sky like a fog, had settled on the ground. 
No shock was felt, and never was a night more calm, 
or more serene. The moon, nearly fiiU, illumined the 
rounded domes of the Silla; and the aspect of the sky 
formed a perfect contrast to that of the earth, covered 
with the dead, and heaped with ruins. Mothers were 
seen bearing in their arms their children, whom they 
hoped to recall to life. Desolate families wandered 
through the city, seeking a brother, a husband, a 
friend, of whose fate they were ignorant, and whom 
they believed to be lost in the crowd. The people 
pressed along the streets, which could no more be 
recognized put by long Unes of ruins. 

" All the calamities experienced in the gi-eat cata- 
strophes of Lisbon, Messina, Lima, and Riobamba, were 
renewed on the fatal day of the 26th of March, 1812. 
The wounded, buried under the ruins, implored by 
their cries, the help of the passers by, and nearly two 
thousand were dug out. Never was pity displayed in 
a more affecting manner ; never had it been seen more 
ingeniously active, than in the efforts employed to save 
the miserable victims, whose groans reached the ear. 
Implements for digging and clearing away the ruins 
were entirely wanting; and the people were obliged to 
use their bare hands, to disinter the living. The 
wounded, as well as the sick who had escaped from the 
hospitals, were laid on the banks of the small river 
Guayra. They found no shelter but the foliage of the 
trees. Beds, linen to dress the wounds, instruments 
of surgery, medicines, and objects of the most urgent 
necessity, were buried under the iniins. Everything, 
even food, was wanting during the first days. Water 
became alike scarce in the interior of the city. The 


commotion had rent the pipes of the fountains; the 
falling in of the earth had choked up the springs that 
supplied them ; and it became necessary, in order to 
have water, to go down to the river Guayra, which was 
considerably swelled; and then vessels to convey the 
water were wanting. 

"There remained a duty to be fulfilled toward the 
dead, enjoined at once by piety, and the dread of infec- 
tion. It being impossible to inter so many thousand 
corpses, half-buried under the ruins, commissaries were 
appointed to burn the bodies: and for this purpose 
funeral piles were erected between the heaps of ruins. 
This cerenomy lasted several days. Amid so many 
public calamities, the people devoted themselves to 
those religious duties, which they thought were most 
fitted to appease the wrath of heaven. Some, assem- 
bling in processions, sang funeral hymns; others, in a 
state of distraction, confessed themselves aloud in the 
streets. In this town was now repeated what had been 
remarked in the province of Quito, after the tremen- 
dous earthquake of 1797; a number of marriages were 
contracted between persons, who had neglected for 
many years to sanction their union by the sacerdotal 
benediction. Children found parents, by whom they 
had never till then been acknowledged ; restitutions 
were promised by persons, who had never been accused 
of fraud; and families, who had long been enemies, 
were di-awn together by the tie of common calamity. 
But while in some this feeling seemed to soften the 
heart, and open it to compassion, it had a contrary 
effect on others, rendering them more obdurate and 
inhuman. In great calamities vulgar minds retain 
still less goodness than strength; for misfortune acts 
like the pursuit of literatm'C, and the investigation of 


nature, which exercise their happy influence only upon 
a few, giving more warmth to the feelings, more eleva- 
tion to the mind, and more benevolence to the cha, 

Shocks so violent as these which, in the space of one 
minute* overthrew the city of Caraccas, could not, 
says Humboldt, be confined to a small portion of the 
continent. Their fatal effects extended to the adjoin- 
ing districts along the coast, and were more esj)ecially 
experienced in the mountains of the interior, which at 
the time of Humboldt's visit were thought by the in- 
habitants to be in a great measure secure from such 
commotions ; the earthquake was felt in New Granada, 
at a distance of 620 miles ; La Guayra, Mayquetia, 
Antimana, Baruta, La Vega, San Felipe and Merida 
were almost entirely destroyed. The number of dead 
at La Guayra and San Felipe exceeded four or five 
thousand. Yet in the valleys of Aragua, situated ye- 
tween Caraccas and San Felipe the shocks were very 
weak; and La Victoria, Maracay, and Valencia, scarcely 
suffered, notwithstanding their proximity to the capital. 
At Valecillo, not many leagues from Valencia, the 
i ground opened and emitted so large a quantity of water 
that a new torrent was formed. The same phenomenon 
took place at Porto Cabello. On the other hand, the 
Lake of Maracaybo underwent considerable diminu- 
tion. At Coro no commotion was felt, although the 
the town was situated on the coast between other towns 
which suffered; and the fishermen who passed the 
26th of March in the island of Orchila, 103 miles 

* The duration of the earthquake, that is to say, o^the whole of the 
movements of undulation and rising, which occasioned the catastrophe, 
was estimated hy some at fifty seconds, by others, at one minute and 
I twelve seconds. 


to the north-east of Caraccas, were not sensible of 
any shock. Fifteen or eighteen hours after the great 
catastrophe, the ground remained tranquil. The 
night was fine and calm, and the commotions did not 
recommence until after the 27th. They were then 
attended with a very loud and long continued subter-i 
raneous noise. The inhabitants of Caraccas wandered 
into the neighbouring country; but the villages and 
farms having suffered as much as the town, they could 
find no shelter till they were beyond the mountains of 
Los Tegues in the valleys of Aragua, and the Llanos or 
savannahs. JSTo less than fifteen oscillations were felt 
in one day. On the 5th of April there was almost as 
violent an earthquake as that which overthrew the 
capital. During several hours the ground was in a 
state of constant undulation; large masses of earth fell 
in the mountains ; and enormous rocks were detached 
from the Silla of Caraccas. It was even asserted, and 
the opinion afterwards prevailed in the country, that 
the two domes of the Silla sank fifty or sixty toises; but 
the assertion was not founded on any actual measure- 

On the 30th of April, the inhabitants of Caraccas 
were ten^ified by a subterraneous noise which resem- 
bled frequent discharges of the largest cannon; and 
which was likewise heard with alarm at the town of 
Calabozo, in the midst of the savannahs. The noise 
began at two o'clock in the morning, and was not ac- 
companied by any shock; and what is remarkable, it 
was as loud on the coast as at the distance of eighty 
leagues inland. Everywhere it was believed to be trans- 
mitted through the air; and so far was it from being 
thought a subterraneous noise, that at Caraccas, as well 
as at Calabozo, preparations were made for putting the 


place into a state of defence against an enemy who 
seemed to be advancing with heavy artillery. 

On the same day took place the great eruption of 
the volcano in the island of St. Vincent, which had not 
thrown out any lava since the year 1718. The first 
eruption took place on the 27th of April at noon; it 
was merely an emission of ashes, but was attended 
with a tremendous noise. On the 30th, the lava 
passed the brink of the crater, and after a coui'se of 
four hours reached the sea. The noise of the explo- 
sion resembled that of alternate discharges of very 
large cannon and of musketry; and'* what is weU 
worthy of remark, it seemed much louder at sea, at a 
great distance from the island, than in sight of land, 
and near the burning volcano." 

Chapter VIII. 

Departure from Caraccas— Ricli vegetation of the valley— Mountains of 
Higuerota — Valley of the Tuy — Excursion to its gold mine — En- 
ormous trunks of fig-trees — Prosperity of the towns and villages— 
The Zamang of Guayra— The Hacienda de Cura— The Lake of 
Valencia — Its cultivated shores— Diminution of its waters — Its 
islands — To^vn of New Valencia — Hot springs — Porto CabeUo — The 


On the 7th of February, 1800, our travellers quitted the 
city of Caraccas on thek great expedition to the Ori- 
noco ; and in the first instance directed their course to 
the west, towards the valleys of Aragua and the Lake of 

Theu- reason for not taking the dii*ect road to the 
south was this, that by so doing they would have lost 
the opportunity of visiting the finest and most culti- 
vated parts of the province, for such the valleys of 


Aragua "sverc considered to be, as veil as of making 
some important observations on the Lake of Valencia, 
and of descending the river Apure to its junction with 
the Orinoco. Thus the circuitous route by which they 
penetrated to the interior of the continent had a direc- 
tion first to the west, then to the south, and finally to 
the east-south-east. 

Setting out from Caraccas in the cool of the evening, 
they proceeded along its valley, following for some 
time the righl bank of the river Guayra, by an excel- 
lent road, partly scooped out of the rock; and soon 
passed the village of La Yega, where the scattered 
houses surrounded by date trees seemed to proclaim 
the easy circumstances of their inhabitants, and the 
church displayed itself in a picturesque manner on a 
range of hills covered with vegetation. In the vicinity, 
all the orchards were full of peach-trees in full flower; 
this part of the country supplying an abundance of 
fruits for the market of Caraccas. 

Beyond the village of Antimano, the valley narrowed 
considerably, and the road became fatiguing ; between 
this place and Ajuntas, the travellers crossed the wind- 
ing stream of the Guayi-a seventeen times. The river 
was bordered by a beautiful gramineous plant, rising 
sometimes to the height of thirty feet; and the huts 
were sm-rounded with enormous trees of the alligator 
pear, whose trunks were covered with a variety of 

Halting at the further end of the valley at the base 
of the mountains which close it to the south-west, they 
2>assed the night at a sugar-plantation where there was 
a square house filled with negroes. It looked like a 
barrack; nearly eighty negroes were lying on skins of 
oxen spread on the ground, four in each apartment. In 


tlie yard were burning a dozen fires, at whicli the ope- 
ration of cookery was being carried on. "We were 
again struck," remarks Humboldt, '-'witli the noisy 
mui;h of the blacks, Avliich almost preyented us from 

At sunrise on the following morning, the travellers 
proceeded to cross the mountains of Higuerota, a lofty 
group which lies between the valleys of Caraccas and 
Aragua. The country had a wild appearance, and was 
thickly wooded, the plants belonging to the valley of 
Caraccas gradually disappearing. The road, however, 
was so much frequented, that long files of mules and 
oxen met them at every step. Descending, they camo 
upon a ravine, in which a fine spring was obseiwed 
gushing from the rock, and forming several cascades. 
The vegetation was extremely rich and diversified^ con- 
sisting of tree-ferns, the trunks of which reached tha 
height of twenty-five feet, heliconias, browneas, gigan- 
tic figs, palms, and other plants. "The brownea, which 
the inhabitants call rosa del monte, or palo de eras, 
bears four or five hundred purple flowers together in 
one thyrsus; each flower has invariably eleven stamina ; 
and this majestic plant, the trunk of which reaches the 
height of fifty or sixty feet, is becoming rare, because 
its wood yields a highly valued charcoal." 

Having crossed the mountain of Higuerota, our 
travellers entered at its foot the small village of San 
Pedro, situated in a basin where several valleys meet. 
Here, on one spot they found coffee, plantains, and 
potatoes sedulously cultivated. Soon after leaving the 
mountain, they entered the valley of the river Tuy, a 
beautiful and highly cultivated district, covered with 
hamlets and villages, some of which deserved the 
name of towns: in a line of twelve leagues they found 



four places, La Victoria, San Matheo, Turmero, and 
Maracay, containing together about 30,000 inhabit- 
ants. In this dehghtful country they passed two days 
at the plantation of Don Jose de Manterola upon the 
banks of the Tuy, which winds among grounds covered - 
with plantains, fig-trees, &c., its waters being always 
cool and clear as crystal. They observed here thi-ee 
species of sugar-cane — the old Creole, the Otaheitan, 
and the Batavian; the most valuable is the second, 
which yields a third more of juice than the Creole one, 
and also furnishes a much larger quantity of fuel. 

The house of their entertainer, situated upon a hil- 
lock, was surrounded by the cottages of the negroes, to 
whose humane treatment here as in most of the Spanish 
colonies, Humboldt bears testimony. In this, as in the 
other valleys of Aragua, a small spot of ground is 
allotted to them; they keep poultiy, and sometimes 
even a pig. "Theu- masters," says our author, "boast 
of their happiness, as in the Xorth of Eui'ope the great 
landholders like to descant upon the ease which the 
peasants enjoy who are attached to the glebe. The 
day of our arrival we saw three fugitive negroes brought 
back: they were slaves newly pm'chased. I dreaded 
having to witness one of those punishments which, 
wherever slaveiy prevails, destroy all the charm of a 
country life. Happily these blacks were treated with 

At the period of oui' travellers' visit to the valley of 
the Tuy, workmen were employed in finishing a dike 
for a canal of m-igation. The undertaking had 
already cost the proprietor 7000 piastres, besides en- 
tailing on him a loss of 4000 more for the cost of a 
lawsuit in which he had been engaged with his neigh- 
boiu's. While the lawyers were disputing about the 


canalj of which only one-half was finished, Don Jose de 
Manterola began to doubt even the possibility of car- 
rying the plan into execution. To settle the matter, 
Humboldt took the level of the ground, and found 
that the drain had actually been constructed eight 
feet too low. "What sums of money," he exclaims, 
"have I seen uselessly expended in the Spanish colo- 
nies, for undertakings founded on eiToneous levelling !" 

In the valley of the Tuy, as in most parts of America 
conquered by the Spaniards, there is a real or fancied 
gold mine; grains of that metal were, indeed, said to 
have been picked up in the ravine leading to its as- 
signed locality, and Humboldt was desired to visit it. 
"An overseer, or major domo of a neighbouring plan- 
tation, had followed these indications; and after his 
death, a waistcoat with gold buttons being found among 
his clothes, this gold, according to the logic of these 
people, could only have proceeded from a vein, which 
the falling in of the earth had rendered invisible. In 
vain I objected, that I could not, by the mere view of 
the soil, without digging a large trench in the direction 
of the vein, well judge of the existence of the mine : I 
was compelled to yield to the desire of my hosts. For 
twenty years past the major-domo's waistcoat had been 
the subject of conversation in the country. Gold ex- 
tracted from the bosom of the earth, is far more allur- 
ing in the eyes of the vulgar, than that which is the 
produce of agricultural industry, favoui'ed by the fer- 
tility of the soil, and the mildness of the climate." 

Proceeding thi'ough a deep ravine named Quebrada 
/S'eca, which led to the supposed gold mine, the atten- 
tion of our travellers was attracted by a gigantic tree 
which had grown on a steep decHvity above a house. 
As apprehensions had been entertained of its injuring 



the building, if it should fall, it had been burnt near 
the root and at the top, and cut so as to sink between 
some large fig-trees which would impede its further de- 
scent. Its length was 160 feet; its diameter at the 
lower end was eight feet and a half, and at the upper 
end four feet fire inches. 

On reaching the appointed spot, the travellers found 
all traces of the gold mine obliterated, the surface of 
the ground having been completely changed by the 
falling down of the earth. They were rewarded, how- 
ever, for their labour, by an abundant harvest of plants 
in the thick forest adjoining; the vegetation on every 
side being of the most magnificent description. The 
fig-trees displayed a striking phenomenon; woody ex- 
crescences rose around them to the height of twenty 
feet above the ground, and of such a thickness, that in 
some instances the diameter of their trunks near the 
roots became nearly twenty-three feet. When these 
roots are cut with a hatchet at the distance of several 
feet from the trunk, they throw out a milky juice which 
quickly becomes altered and coagulated after being de- 
prived of the vital influence of the organs of the tree. 
"What a wonderful combination of cells and vessels 
exists in these vegetable masses," exclaims Humboldt, 
"in these gigantic trees of the torrid zone, which with- 
out interiiiption, perhaps during a thousand years, 
prepare nutritious food, raise them to the height of 
180 feet, convey them down again to the ground, and 
conceal beneath a rough and hard bark, under the 
inanimate layers of ligneous matter, all the move- 
ments of organized life!" 

At sunrise on the 11th, they left the plantation, and 
proceeded towards Victoria, by a road running along the 
smiling banks of the Tuy; the morning was cool and 


huniid, and the air seemed embalmed by tlie delicious 
odour of the large liliaceous plants. They passed on 
the way a farm, where they saw a negress more than 
a hundred years old; she was seated before a small 
hut of earth and reeds; and seemed to enjoy very 
good health. "I hold her to the sun/' said her griind- 
son, "the heat keeps her alive," Humboldt remarks, 
that blacks well-seasoned to the climate, and Indians, 
are known to attain a happy old age in the torrid 
zone ; and he mentions a native of Peru who died at 
the age of one hundred and forty-thj"ee years, having 
been married ninety years. 

As they approached Victoria, the ground became 
smoother, resembUng the bottom of a desiccated lake. 
The town itself presented an appearance of great pros- 
perity, containing a population of seven thousand in- 
habitants, and many fine edifices, among which was a 
church decorated with Doric columns. Its environs 
displayed a remarkable phenomenon in agriculture; 
on a surface nearly 300 toises above the level of the 
sea, were seen fields of corn mingled with plantations 
of sugar-canes, cofi'ee, and plantains. 

In the villages through which our travellers passed 
in the valley of Tuy, everything indicated prosperity. 
From S. Matheo to Turmero, a distance of four leagues, 
the road led through plantations of sugar, indigo, cotton, 
and cofi'ee. The regularity of all the villages showed 
that they owed their origin to monks and missions : the 
streets were straight and parallel, intersecting at right 
angles; and in the centre was the chiu'ch situated in 
the great square. The relative population of the 
valleys of Aragua at the time of Humboldt's visit, was 
equal to that of the most thickly peopled parts of 
France; the houses were of masomy, and in every 


court were cocoa-trees rising above the habitation. 
The Indians form a portion of the inhabitants, and 
retain their characteristics in the midst of the civili- 
zation Avhich surrounds them. During the short 
intervals in which they can be prevailed on to work, 
they are active and laborious; but the temptation of 
strong liquors is so alluring, that in one week they 
will spend the earnings of two months, at the small 
inns which everywhere abound. 

" On leaving the village of Turmero," says Humboldt, 
"we discover, at the distance of a league, an object 
which appears on the horizon like a round hillock, or a 
tumulus covered with vegetation. It is not a hill, how- 
ever, nor a group of very close trees, but a single tree, 
the celebrated Zamang of Guayra, known over the 
whole province for the enormous extent of its branches, 
which form a hemispherical top six hundred and four- 
teen feet in circumference. The zamang is a beautiful 
siDecies of mimosa, whose tortuous branches divide by 
forking. Its slim and delicate foliage is agreeably de- 
tached on the blue sky. We rested a long while 
beneath this vegetable arch. The trunk of the Guayra 
zamang, which grows on the road from Turmero to 
Maracay, is not more than sixty-four feet high, and 
nine and a half feet in diameter; but its real beauty 
consists in the general form of its top. The branches 
stretch out like the spokes of a great umbrella, and 
all incline towards the ground, from which they uni- 
formly remain twelve or fifteen feet distant. The 
circumference of the branches or foliage is so regular, 
that I found the different diameters two hundred and 
five and one hundred and ninety-eight feet. One side 
of the tree was entirely stripped of leaves from the 
effect of drought, while on the other both foliage and 

South American Indigo Factory 


flowers remained. The branches were covered, with 
creeping plants. The inhabitants of these valleys, and 
especially the Indians, have a great veneration for the 
Guayra zamang, which the first conquerors seem to 
have found nearly in the same state as that in which 
we now see it. Since it has been attentively observed, 
no change has been noticed in its size or form. It 
must at least be as old as the dragon-tree of Oro- 
tava. Near Turmero and the Hacienda de Cura, there 
are other trees of the same species, with larger trunks ; 
but their hemispherical tops do not spread so widely." 

At the Hacienda de Cura, which is seated on the 
borders of the Lake of Valencia, our travellers passed 
seven days, in a small habitation surrounded by 
thickets; and here they were agreeably sm-prised not 
only at the progress of agriculture, but at the social 
aspect of the district. Their host Count Tovar, and 
other great landholders following his example, had 
begun to let out small farms to poor families who 
chiefly applied themselves to the cultivation of cotton ; 
the object of this arrangement was to substitute free 
labour for the compulsory toiling of slaves. "I love," 
says Humboldt, "to dwell upon these details of colo- 
nial industry, because they prove to the inhabitants of 
Europe, what to the enlightened inhabitants of the co- 
lonies has long ceased to be doubtful, that the continent 
of Spanish America can produce cotton as well as 
sugar and indigo by free hands, and that the unhappy- 
slaves are capable of becoming peasants, farmers, and 

The lake of Valencia, or as the Indians call it Ta- 
carigua, is remarkable for its picturesque beauties; it 
is larger than the Lake of Keuchatel, and in its general 
form bears some resemblance to that of Geneva. Its 


northern shores are highly cultivated, prcsentmg nume- 
rous plantations of sugar, coffee, and cotton. "Paths 
bordered with cestrum, azedarach, and other shrubs 
always in flower, traverse the plain, and join the scat- 
tered farms. The ceiba,with large yellow flowers, gives 
a peculiar character to the landscape, as it unites its 
branches with those of the purple erythrina. The 
mixture and brilliancy of the vegetable colours form a 
contrast to the unvaried tint of a cloudless sky. In the 
dry season, when the burning soil is covered with a 
wavy vapour, artificial irrigations keep up its verdure 
and fecundity. Here and there the granitic rocks 
pierce the cultivated land, and enormous masses rise 
abruptly in the midst of the plain, their bare and 
fissured surfaces affording nourishment to some succu- 
lent plants, which prepare a soil for future ages. Often 
on the summit of these detached hills, a fig-tree or a 
clusia, with juicy leaves, have fixed their roots in the 
rock, and overlook the landscape. With their dead 
and withered branches they seem like signals erected 
on a steep hill. The form of these eminences reveals 
the secret of their origin, for when the whole of this 
valley was filled with water, and the waves beat against 
the base of the peaks of Mariana, the Devil's Wall, and 
the coast chain, these rocky hills were shoals or islets." 
This lake, when our travellers visited it, was thirty- 
four miles and a half in length, and four or five in 
breadth: the mean depth was about eighty-five feet, 
but in some parts it was upv>'ards of two hundred and 
fifty feet. For some years previous, attention had been 
drawn to the curious fact, of the gradual diminution of 
the waters of this lake ; and from a careful examina- 
tion, Humboldt was convinced that in remote times, 
they had extended over the whole valley of which it 


now only occupies a part. Shells, such as tlie lake 
now affords, were found in layers three or four feet 
thick, nearly as far off as the town of Victoria ; and 
the form of the promontories and their abrupt slope 
indicated the shores of an Alpine lake. Some persons 
supposed that there were subterranean channels which 
carried off the water; Humboldt more rationally attri- 
butes the diminution to evaporation, and the clearing 
of the country. The destruction of the forests and 
thickets, in the progress of cultivation, has exposed the 
ground to the direct influence of the sun ; the springs 
and rivers have become less abundant or altogether 
dried up, and thus the supplies of the lake have been 
materially diminished. 

The lake is embellished with fifteen beautiful islands; 
the largest of them, Burro, is two miles in length. It 
was inhabited by some families of Mestizoes, who were 
occupied in rearing goats, and who seldom visited the 
neighboui-ing shore. To these simple men the lake 
appeared of immense extent ; for their subsistence they 
had plantains, cassava, milk, and a little fish. A hut, 
constructed of reeds; hammocks woven with the cotton, 
which the neighbouring fields produced ; a large stone 
on which they made their fire, the ligneous fruit of the 
tutuma, in which they di-ew water, constituted their 
domestic establishment. " The old Mestizo," says 
Humboldt, " who offered us some of the milk of his 
goats, had a beautiful daughter; we learned from our 
guide, that solitude had rendered him as mistrustful 
as he might, perhaps, have been by the society of men. 
The day before our arrival, some sportsmen had visited 
the island; they were surprised by the night, and 
preferred sleeping in the open air to returning to 
Mocundo. This news spread alarm throughout the 


island. The father obliged the young girl to climb up a 
very lofty zamang or acacia, which grows in the plain, 
at some distance from the hut; while he stretched 
himself at the foot of the tree, and did not permit his 
daughter to descend, till the sportsmen had departed. 
Travellers have not always found this timorous watch- 
fulness, this great austerity of manners, among the 
inhabitants of islands." 

On the 21st, the travellers quitted the Hacienda de 
Cura, continuing their route to the westward, towards 
the town of Nueva Valencia, seated at the further 
extremity of the lake. They travelled by night as the 
heat was excessive in the da^^-time; and in a thick 
wood were closely followed for some time by a large ja- 
guar, whose yellings frightened their horses. They were 
told that this animal had made himself famous in the 
district, having roamed in the mountains for three 
years, and escaped the pursuit of the most intrepid 
hunters. The vegetation was magnificent; at one part 
the road was bordered by large mimosas, sixty feet 
high, with horizontal branches meeting, so as to form a 
verdant canopy, more than fifty yards in breadth. 

Resting on the 22nd at the village of Guacara, on the 
northern shore of the lake, they continued their journey 
in the evening to New Valencia. This town, which 
had been founded in 1555, contained a population of 
six or seven thousand; but it covered a very large 
extent of ground, the streets being broad and the 
houses low. Many of the white inhabitants used to 
abandon their houses, and take up their abode in little 
plantations of indigo and cotton, where they could 
" venture to work with their own hands," an effort of 
industry which would, it seemed, have degraded them 
in the town. At this place, the termites, or white ants, 


were very numerous; their excavations were said to 
resemble subterranean canals, which, filling with water 
in the rainy season, became extremely dangerous to the 
buildings of the town. 

From Valencia our travellers paid a visit to the hot 
springs of La Trinchera, ten miles off. The fountains 
formed a rivulet, which, even in the driest seasons was 
two feet deep, and eighteen in width : the temperature 
of the water exceeded 194°, and eggs immersed in it 
were boiled in less than four minutes. The vegetation 
aroimd was exceedingly luxuriant, the mimosas and 
fig-trees pushing their roots into the Avater, and spread- 
ing their branches over it. 

From Yalencia, also, they made an excursion to the 
town of Porto Cabello, on the sea-coast, famous for its 
magnificent harbour. The heat at this place was exces- 
sive, and naturally appeared suffocating to persons just 
descended from the elevated regions of the interior; 
the temperature, however, was below that of La 
Guayra; the breeze being stronger and more regulai', 
and the air having more room to circulate between the 
coast and the mountains. Porto Cabello is one of the 
tkree places on this coast at which the yellow fever has 
been known for a considerable time. Its insalubrity 
is attributed to the exhalations that rise from the shore 
to the eastward; the upper part of the harbom- is 
marshy ground covered with stagnant and putrid water. 
Keturning towards Yalencia, they stopped at the farm 
of Barbula, where they were gratified with a new vege- 
table phenomenon, interesting to the philosopher and 
the lover of natural history. They had heard of a tree 
yielding a juice which resembled milk, and which was 
used as an article of food by the poor natives; and on 
visiting it, found the statements made to them on the 


subject to be correct. Of this tree very little is known; 
Humboldt describes it as being peculiar to tlie Cordil- 
leras of the coast of Caraccas, and occurring most 
frequently between Barbula and the lake of Maracaybo, 
and in the valley of Caucagua, three days' journey 
to the east of Caraccas, In these places it is named 
the palo de vaca, or arhol de leche. It forms a fine 
tree, resembling the broad-leaved star apple of the 
West Indies. Its oblong pointed leaves, rough and 
alternate, are marked by lateral ribs, prominent at the 
lower surface and paralleled; some of them are ten 
inches long. When an incision is made in the trunk, 
there issues in abundance a milky fluid, glutinous, 
tolerably thick, free from all acrimony, and having an 
agreeable balsamic smell. The Xegroes fatten upon it, 
and the experience of our travellers proves that it 
produces no noxious effects upon Europeans. They 
drank considerable quantities of it in the evening before 
they went to bed, and very early in the morning, without 
suffering in the slightest degree ; its viscidity alone 
rendered it a little disagreeable. In its chemical 
character, this juice bears a striking resemblance to the 
milk of animals. When exf)0sed to the air^ a yellowish 
cheesy substance, called, in fact, cheese by the people, 
is produced; in five or six days this becomes sour, and 
it afterwards putrefies. Humboldt supposed the cow- 
tree to belong to the order of plants called Sapotea, to 
which the Shea or Butter-tree^, mentioned by Mungo 

* Park thus describes this plant in the narrative of his First Joiimey 
in Africa. ' ' The people were everywhere employed in collecting the 
fruit of the Shea trees, from which they prepare the vegetable butter 
mentioned in former parts of this work. These trees groAV in great 
abundance all over this part of Bambarra. They are not planted by the 
natives, but are found growing naturally in the woods; and in clearing 
wood-land for cultivation, every tree is cut down but the Shea. The 


Park, belongs; but it is now generally regarded as a 
member of the Urticaceous order, and thus as present- 
ing the interesting, though not singular phenomenon 
of an innocuous and even nutritive plant in a highly 
poisonous order. 

This interesting plant strongly excited the attention 
of our travellers. "Amid the great number of curious 
phenomena," says Humboldt, "which have presented 
themselves to me in the course of my travels, I confess 
there are few that have so powerfully affected my 
imagination, as the aspect of the cow-tree. "WTiatever 
relates to milk, whatever regards corn, inspires an 
interest which is not merely that of the physical know- 
ledge of things, but is connected with another order 
of ideas and sentiments. We can scarcely conceive 
how the human race could exist without farinaceous 
substances; and without that nourishing juice, which 
the breast of the mother contains, and which is appro- 
priated to the long feebleness of the infant. The 
amylaceous matter of the corn, the object of religious 
veneration among so many nations, ancient and modern, 
is diffused in the seeds, and deposited in the roots of 
vegetables; milk, which serves us as an aliment, 
appears to us exclusively the produce of animal 
organization. Such are the impressions we have 
received in our earliest infancy; such is also the source 

tree itself very much resembles the American oak ; and the fruit from 
the kernel of which being first dried in the sun, the butter is prepared 
by boUing the kernel in water, has somewhat the appearance of a Spanish 
olive. The kernel is enveloped in a sweet pulp under a thin green rind ; 
and the butter produced from it, besides the advantage of its keeping 
the whole year without salt, is whiter, firmer, and to my palate of a 
richer flavour than the best butter I ever tasted made from cow's milk. 
The growth and preparation of this commodity, seem to be among the 
first objects of African industry, in this and the neighbouring states; 
and it constitutes a main article of their inland commerce." 



of that astonishment which seizes us at the aspect of 
the tree just described. It is not liere the solemn 
shades of forests, the majestic course of rivers, the 
mountains wrapt in eternal frost, that excite our emo- 
tion. A few drops of vegetable juice recall to our 
minds all the powerfulness and fecundity of nature. 
On the barren flank of a rock grows a tree with cori- 
aceous and dry leaves. Its large woody roots can 
scarcely penetrate into the stone. For several months 
of the year not a single shower moistens its foliage. 
Its branches appear dead and dried, but when the 
trunk is pierced, there flows from it a sweet and 
nourishing milk. It is at the rising of the sun, that 
this vegetable fountain is most abundant. The blacks 
and natives are then seen hastening from all quar- 
ters, furnished with large bowls to receive the milk 
which grows yellow, and thickens at its surface. 
Some empty their bowls under the tree itself, others 
-carry the juice home to their children. We seem to 
see the family of a shepherd, who distributes the milk 
^f his flock. 

"I have described," he continues, "the sensations 
which the cow-tree awakens in the mind of the tra- 
veller at the first view. In examining the physical 
properties of animal and vegetable products, science 
displays them as closely linked together; but it strips 
them of what is marvellous, and perhaps also of a part 
of their charms, of what excited our astonishment. 
Nothing appears isolated; the chemical principles that 
were believed to be peculiar to animals, are found in 
plants; a common chain links together all organic 


,^,'The Red Hcv/lin^ Monkej. 


Chapter IX. 

Departure from the valleys of Aragua — Entrance into the Llanos, or 
plains — Their appearance — Characteristics of the plains of the fom- 
great continents; Prairies, Llanos, and Pampas — Want of hills in 
the Llanos — Two kinds of slight inequalities in them— General out- 
line of the mountains of South America, and of its plains — Traces 
of ancient inhabitants — Palm-trees of the Llanos. 


On the 6tli of March, our travellers departed from the 
charming valleys of Aragua, to enter upon the desolate 
plains which stretch far to the south ; or, in the words 
of Humboldt, from a peopled country embellished with 
cultivation, to plunge into a vast solitude. Proceeding 
along the south-west side of the Lake of Valencia, they 
passed over a rich country, covered with plantains and 
water-melons, and were amused in then- route by the 
singular evolutions of the monkeys, moving in regular 
bands from tree to tree. The howhngs of these crea- 
tures announced the rising of the sun: Humboldt 
ascertained the distance at which their cries are 
audible to be 1705 yards. According to the Indians, 
there is one of them who always chants as leader ; and 
the missionaries assert, that, when a young one is on 
the point of being brought forth, the bowlings are 
suspended until the moment of its appearance. 

"Naturalists," says Humboldt, "have very often 
described the howling monkeys which live in society in 
different parts of America. They everywhere resem- 
ble each other in their manners, though the species 
are not always the same. The uniformity with which 
the araguatoes execute their movements is extremely 
striking. Whenever branches of the neighbouring. 


trees do not touch, the male that leads the band sus- 
pends himself by the callous and prehensile part of his 
tail; and letting fall the rest of his body, swings him- 
self, till, in one of his oscillations, he reaches the neigh- 
boui'ing branch. The whole file goes through the 
same eyolution at the same place. It is almost super- 
fluous to add, how dubious is the assertion of Ulloa, 
and so many well-informed travellers, according to 
whom the marimondoes, the araguatoes, and other 
monkeys with a prehensile tail, form a sort of chain, 
in order to reach the opposite side of a river'"'. We 
had opportunities of obseiTing thousands of these ani- 
mals; and for this vei-y reason we place no confidence 
in accounts, which were, perhaps, invented by the 
Europeans themselves, though they are repeated by 
the Indians of the Missions, as if they had been 
transmitted to them by then- own fathers." 

On the second day, they began to ascend the moun- 
tains which separate the valleys from the Llanos, or 
plains, of the interior, and, reaching the top of an ele- 
vated platform, took their last view of the delightful 
country in which they had spent the previous four 
weeks. The passage of the mountain range occupied 
them some days, and, on the 12th, they entered the 
basin of the Llanos, in the ninth degree of narth 

"The sun was almost at its zenith; the earth, where- 
ever it aiDpeared sterile and destitute of vegetation, was 
at the temperature of 118° or 122°. Not a breath of 
air was felt at the height at w^hich we were on our 
mules; yet, in the midst of this apparent calm, whirls 
of dust incessantly arose, driven on by those small cur- 

* UUoa even goes so far as to represent this extraordinary feat of the 
monkeys in an engraving (in Ms Voyage to South America). ^ 


rents of air, that glide only over the surface of the 
ground, and are occasioned by the difference of tempe- 
rature which the naked sand and the spots covered 
with herbs acquire. These sand-winds augment the 
suffocating heat of the air. Every grain of quartz, 
hotter than the surrounding air, radiates heat in every 
direction; and it is difl&cult to observe the temperature 
of the atmosphere, without these particles of sand strik- 
ing against the bulb of the thermometer. All around 
us, the plains seemed to ascend toward the sky, and that 
vast and profound solitude appeared to our eyes like 
an ocean covered with sea-weeds. According to the un- 
equal mass of vapours diffused though the atmosphere, 
and the variable decrement in the temperature of the 
different strata of air, the horizon, in some parts, was 
clear and distinct; in other parts, it appeared undulat- 
ing, sinuous, and as if striped. The earth there was 
confounded with the sky. Through the diy fog, and 
strata of vapour, the trunks of palm-trees were seen 
from afar : stripped of their foliage, and their verdant 
summits, these trunks appeared like the masts of a 
ship discovered at the horizon. 

"There is something awful, but sad and gloomy, in the 
uniform aspect of these Steppes. Everything seems 
motionless; scarcely does a small cloud, as it passes 
across the zenith, and announces the approach of the 
rainy season, sometimes cast its shadow on the savan- 
nah. I know not whether the first aspect of the Llanos 
excite less astonishment than that of the chain of the 
Andes. Mountainous countries, whatever may be the 
absolute elevation of the highest summits, have an ana- 
logous physiognomy; but we accustom ourselves with 
difficulty to the view of the Llanos of Venezuela and 
Casanare, to that of the Pampas of Buenos Ayres and 


of Chaco, which recall to mind incessantly, and during 
journeys of twenty or thii'ty days, the smooth surface 
of the ocean." 

It has been attempted to characterize the four great 
divisions of the globe, with reference to their plains, by 
saying that Europe has its heaths, Asia its steppes, 
Africa its deserts, and America its savannahs. Hum- 
boldt observes, however, that erroneous notions are 
inculcated by this description, inasmuch as no one of 
the four chraraeteristics is peculiar to any one of the 
four quarters of the globe. The term heath always 
implies the existence of the plant of that name ; but 
as all the plains of Eui'ope are not heathy, the descrip- 
tion is incorrect. In like manner, the steppes of Asia 
are not always covered with saline plants, some of them 
being real deserts. The American llanos are not always 
grassy. It is true that deserts, such as those of Africa, 
are almost wholly wanting in the New World; they 
exist, however, in the low part of Peru, on the borders 
of the South Sea, and are called by the Spaniards, 
not Llanos, but desiertos. 

"This solitary tract is not broad, but four hundred 
and forty leagues long. The rock pierces everywhere 
through the quicksands. No drop of rain ever falls 
on it; and, like the Desert of Sahara, to the north of 
Tombuctoo, theTeruyian Desert affords, near Huaura, 
a rich mine of native sa^f.' Everywhere else, in the 
New World, there are plains^ desert because not- 
inhabited, but no real deserts." 

The name of prairies, given to the savannahs of 
America, is considered by Humboldt as little applicable 
to pastures that are often very dry, though covered 
with grass four or five feet in height. The Llano's and 
the Pampas of South America, are regarded by hiiii%S' 


real Steppes. "They display," he says, "a beautiful ver-. 
dure in the rainy season; but, in the season of great 
drought, assume the aspect of a desert. The grass is 
then reduced to powder, the earth cracks, the alligator 
and the great serpents remain buried in the dried mud, 
till awakened from their long lethargy by the first 
showers of spring." These phenomena are observed 
on barren tracts of fifty or sixty leagues in length, 
wherever the savannahs are not traversed by rivers; for, 
on the borders of rivulets, and around little pools of 
stagnant water, the traveller finds at certain distances, 
even during the period of the great di'oughts, thickets 
of the mauritia palm, the leaves of which, spread 
out like a fan, preserve a brilliant verdure. These 
immense plains appear, as far as the eye can reach, to 
adopt our traveller's expression, "like an ocean of ver- 
dure." Their extent, however, great as it is, is apt to 
deceive the traveller. " The uniform landscape of the 
Llanos ; the extreme rarity of inhabitants ; the fatigue 
of travelling beneath a burning sky, and an atmosphere 
darkened with dust; the view of the horizon, which 
seems for ever to fly before us; those lowly trunks of 
palm-trees, which have all the same aspect, and which 
we despair of reaching, because they are confounded 
with other trunks that rise by degrees on the visual 
horizon; all these causes combined, make the steppes 
appear far greater than they are in reality." 

The chief characteristic of these savannahs is the 
absolute want of sensible hills and inequalities, and the 
almost perfect level of every part of the soil, which is 
so remarkable, that often in the space of thirty square 
leagues there is not an eminence of a foot high. This 
regularity of surface is said to reign, without interrup- 
tion, from the mouth of the Orinoco to La Ville de 


Araure and Ospinos, under a parallel of a hundred and 
eighty leagues in length, and from San Carlos to the 
savannahs of Caqueta, on a meridian of two hundred 
leagues. There are, however, on the surface of these 
llanos two kinds of inequalities, which, as Humboldt 
remarks, will not escape the observation of an attentive 
traveller. The first is known by the name of Bancos, 
which, he says, are real shoals in the basins of the 
steppes, fractured strata of sand-stone, or compact lime- 
stone, standing four or five feet higher than the rest 
of the plain, and extending sometimes three or four 
leagues in length ; being entirely smooth, with an hori- 
zontal surface, their existence is discovered only by 
examining their borders. The second species of ine- 
quality is known by the name of Mesa, and is composed 
of small flats, or rather, convex eminences, which rise 
insensibly to the height of a few toises, and are to be 
recognised only by geological or barometrical level- 
lings, or by the course of rivers. Some of these, incon- 
siderable as they are, divide the waters between the 
Orinoco and the northern coast of Terra Firma. 

Humboldt has given us a bold geographical outline 
of South America. He observes, that, in order to have 
an exact idea of the plains, their configuration and 
their limits, we must know the chains of mountains 
that form their boundary. From the great chain of 
the Andes, then, which bounds, or nearly so, the west- 
ern side of South America, throughout its whole extent 
in a north and south direction, branch out three distinct 
Cordilleras, or transverse chains, dividing this continent 
from east to west. The first, to the northward, is called 
by our author the Cordillera of the Coast, of which the 
highest summit is the Silla of Caraccas, and which 
runs across the country in about the tenth parallel of 


latitude. The second chain he has named the Cordil- 
lera of Parime, or of the Great Cataracts of the 
Orinoco; it extends between the parallels of 3° and 7° 
from the mouths of the Guaviare and the Meta to the 
sources of the Orinoco, the Marony, and the Esquibo, 
towards French and Dutch Guiana. The third chain 
is the Cordillera of Chiquitos, which divides the rivers 
flowing into the Amazon from those of the Rio de la 
Plata; and unites, in 16° and 18° of south latitude, the 
Andes of Peru to the mountains of Brazil. "The 
small elevation of the great plains, enclosed within these 
Cordilleras and the Andes, but open to the east, would 
tempt one to consider them," says our traveller, "as 
gulfs stretching in the direction of the current of ro- 
tation. If, from the effect of some peculiar attraction, 
the waters of the Atlantic were to rise 50 toises (320 
feet) at the mouth of the Orinoco, and 200 toises 
(1280 feet) at the mouth of the Amazon, the great 
tide would cover more than half of South America. 
The eastern declivity of the foot of the Andes, now 
600 leagues distant from the coast of Brazil, would 
become a shore beaten by the waves." He might have 
added, that such a tide would cover the plains of Hin- 
dostan, and wash the feet of the Himalaya mountains. 
After describing the mountains, Humboldt furnishes 
us with a grand outline of the thi'ee plains. 

"These three transverse chains, or rather, these 
three groups of mountains, stretching from west to 
east, within the limits of the torrid zone, are separated 
by tracts entirely level, — the Plains of Caraccas, or of 
the Lower Orinoco; the Plains of the Amazon and the 
Rio Negro; and the Plains of Buenos Ayres, or of La 
Plata. I do not use the name of a valley, because the 
Lower Orinoco and the Amazon, far fi'om flowing in 


a valley, form but a little furrow in the midst of a yast 
plain. The two basins, placed at the extremities of 
South America, are savannahs, or steppes, — pasturage 
without trees; the intermediate basin, which receives 
the equatorial rains during the whole year, is almost 
entirely one vast forest, in which no other road is 
known than the rivers. That strength of vegetation 
which conceals the soil, renders also the uniformity of 
its level less perceptible ; " and the plains of Caraccas 
and La Plata alone bear this name. The basins we 
have just described are called, in the language of the 
colonists, the Llanos of Varinas and of Caraccas, the 
hosques, or selvas (forests) of the Amazon, and the 
Pampas of Buenos Ayres. The trees not only, for the 
most part, cover the plains of the Amazon, from the 
Cordillera of Chiquitos, as far as that of Parime ; they 
crown also these two chains of mountains, which rarely 
attain the height of the Pyrenees. On this account, 
the vast plains of the Amazon, the Madeira, and the 
Rio Negro, are not so distinctly bounded as the Llanos 
of Caraccas, and the Pampas of Buenos Ayres. As the 
region of forests comprises at once the plains and the 
mountains, it extends from 18° south to 7° and 8° north, 
and occupies an extent of nearly a hundred and twenty 
thousand square leagues. This forest of South Ame- 
rica, for in fact there is only one, is six times larger 
than France." 

The northern plains of Varinas afford some faint 
traces of the industry of an ancient people that has dis- 
appeared, in the shape of a few scattered hillocks, or 
tumuli, called by the Spaniards the Serillos cU las 
Indios ; and of a causeway of earth, five leagues in 
length and fifteen feet high, crossing a plain which is 
frequently overflowed. These were constructed long 


before the conquest; and Humboldt seems at a loss to 
account for their appearance. "Did nations," he asks, 
" further advanced in civilization, descend from the 
mountains of Truxillo to the plains of the Apure? The 
Indians, whom we now find between the Apure and the 
Meta, are in too rude a state to think of making roads, 
or raising tumuli." Against the theory which some 
have entertained, that America was originally peopled 
from Eastern Asia, a powerful argument is derived 
from the paucity of the lactiferous animals, and the 
consequent absence of pastoral nations in the New 
World; because it is scarcely possible to suppose, that 
any of the pastoral hordes of Tartars (using that name 
in its popular and more extended signification,) would 
have emigrated across Behring's Strait, or passed the 
bridge formed by the Aleutian Islands, without carry- 
ing with them a supply of those cattle on which their 
whole subsistence depended. That America was well 
suited for the propagation of such animals, is proved 
by the extraordinary herds of wild cattle and horses 
which have overrun the plains, from the few originally* 
introduced by the Spaniards. 

Over the northern Llanos are scattered several 
species of the palm-tribe, especially the palma de coUja, 
the wood of which is so hard, that a nail can with dif- 
ficulty be driven into it. On this account, it is excellent 
for the purpose of building ; and its fan-like leaves 
•afford a thatch for the roofs of the huts, capable of 
enduring more than twenty years. Another species is 
known by the name of the Palma Real de los Llanos, 
or Royal Palm of the Plains. 

" Other palm-trees rise to the south of Guayaval, 
especially the piritu with pinnate leaves, and the 
murichi'limoriche) celebrated by Father Gumilla under 


the name of arhor de la vida (or tree of life). It is the 
sago-tree of America, furnishing 'victum et amictum* 
(food and clothing), flour, wire, and thread to weave 
hammocks, baskets, nets, and clothing. Its fruit, of 
the form of the cones of the pine, and covered with 
scales, perfectly resemble those of the calamus rotang. 
It has somewhat the taste of the apple. When arrived 
at its maturity it is yellow within and red without. 
The araguato monkeys eat it with avidity ; and the 
nation of the Guaraunoes, whose whole existence, it 
may be said, is closely linked with that of the murichi 
palm-tree, draw from it a fermented liquor, slightly 
acid, and extremely refreshing. This palm-tree, with 
large shining leaves folded like a fan, preserves a beau- 
tiful verdm'e at the period of the greatest drought. Its 
sight alone produces an agreeable sensation of coolness, 
and the murichi, loaded with scaly fruit, contrasts 
singularly with the mournful aspect of the palma de 
cohija, the foliage of which is always gray and covered 
with dust. The Llaneros believe that the former 
attracts the vapom' in the air; and that for this reason 
water is constantly found at its foot when dug for to 
a certain depth. The effect is confounded with the 
cause. The murichi gi^ows best in moist places ; and 
it may rather be said, that the water attracts the tree. 
The natives of the Orinoco, by analogous reasoning, 
pretend that the great serpents contribute to pre- 
serve humidity in a canton. 'You would look in vain 
for water-serpents,' said an old Indian of Javeta to us 
gravely, * where there are no marshes, because the 
water collects no more when you imprudently kill the 
serpents that attract it.' " 

Tlie Fan Palm; 


Chapter X. 

Journey across tlie Llanos — Fatigue of travelling — Farm of El Cayman 
— Town of Calabozo — An ingenious inhabitant — Gymnoti, or elec- 
trical eels — Combat between the eels and horses— Description of the 
gymnoti — Effects of their shocks — The natives' dread of them — 
Departm-e from Calabozo — Heat and dust of the Llanos — An Indian 
girl found exhausted on the ground — The river TJrituco and its 
crocodiles — Singular story of a crocodile — Arrival at San Fernando 
— Heat of that place — Periodical immdations, and destruction of 


Our travellers, as we have said, entered the Llanos on 
tlie 12th. After passing two nights on horseback, and 
seeking in vain in the day-time for some shelter from 
the ardour of the sun beneath the tufts of the murichi 
palm-trees, they arrived just before the third night set 
in, at a little farm called El Cayman, or the Alligator. 
Here they found a solitary house surrounded by a few 
small huts covered with reeds and skins; there was no 
enclosure of any kind, the horses, mules, and oxen 
rambled where they pleased, and were easily brought 
together by people appointed for the pm'pose. These 
men scour the savannahs on horseback, naked to the 
waist, and armed with a lance ; they are known by the 
name of Peones Llaneros, and are partly slaves and 
partly free. Their food consists principally of a little 
meal dried in the air, and sprinkled with salt. 

At this farm they found an old negTO slave, who had 
the management of it during his master's absence; 
andhe told them of herds composed of several thousand 
cows, under his care. Yet they asked in vain for a 
bowl of milk; and were obliged to content themselves 
with some fetid water, which they obtained from a 
neighbouring pool, and which, at the recommendation 



of the negro, they drank through a piece of linen cloth, 
that they might not be incommoded by its smell, or 
obliged to swallow the fine yellowish clay which it held 
suspended. The mules being unloaded, were set at 
liberty and allowed to go in search of water; our 
travellers followed them, and soon came upon a copious 
reservoir, surrounded with palm-trees. Bathing had 
for some time been a necessary recreation with them; 
and after a toilsome journey across the hot sandy 
Llanos, they plunged with avidity into the tempting 
pool. Scarcely had they began to enjoy the refreshing 
coolness of the water, when they heard an alligator 
floundering in the mud, and of course made a pre- 
cipitate retreat. Xight came on, and they set out on 
their return to the farm, but were quite unable to find 
it. Just as they had resolved to seat themselves under 
a palm-tree, in a dry spot surrounded by short grass, 
an Indian who had been round collecting the cattle, 
came up, and was with some difficulty prevailed upou 
to conduct them to the house. 

At two o'clock on the following morning they set out 
toward Calabozo, and on their way suffered greatly 
from the excessive heat of the sun. Whenever the 
wind blew, the temperature rose to 104° or 106°, and 
the air was loaded with dust. Their guides advised 
them to fill their hats with leaves of the rhopala plant, 
in order to prevent the action of the solar rays upon 
the head; and from this expedient our travellers de- 
rived considerable advantage. 

Calabozo is described as a floui'ishing little town in 
the midst of the Llanos, with a population of five thou- 
sand souls. The wealth of the inhabitants consists 
principally of cattle, of which there were said to be 
ninety-eight thousand in the neighbouring pastures. 


It is computed by Depons, the author of a work 
on Colombia, that in the northern plains, stretch- 
ing from east to west, between the mouth of the 
Orinoco and the Lake of Maracaybo, there are 
1,200,000 oxen, 180,000 horses, and 90,000 mules; 
and Humboldt observes, on the authority of a Spanish 
writer (Azara), that in the Pampas of Buenos Ayi'es, 
there are believed to exist 12,000,000 cows, and 
3,000,000 horses, without comprising in this enume- 
ration, the cattle which have no acknowledged owner. 
In the Llanos of Caraccas, the rich hateros, or pro- 
prietors of cattle farms, or hatos, are entirely ignorant 
of the number of cattle which they possess ; the young 
are branded with a mark peculiar to each herd, and 
some of the most wealthy owners mark as many 
as 14,000 every year, and sell 5,000 or 6,000. 

At Calabozo, our travellers met with an ingenious 
inhabitant, named Carlos del Pozo, who had constructed 
an electrical machine with large plates, electrophori, 
batteries, and electrometers, forming an apparatus 
nearly as complete as scientific men in Europe pos- 
sessed. Yet this individual had never seen any such 
instrument, or received any intructions from other 
persons ; having been guided alone by the information 
which he had derived from Sigand de la Pond's trea- 
tise, and Franklin's Memoirs. He was delighted at 
meeting with two such men of science as Humboldt 
and Bonpland, who showed him the effect, then newly 
discovered, of the contact of different metals on the 
nerves of frogs; and thus, "for the first time, the 
names of Galvani and Volta resounded in those vast 

Ever since his first arrival in South America, Hum- 
boldt had been eager in his search after the gymnoti, 



or electrical eels, which were known to exist in the 
pools of stagnant water, and the confluents of the 
Orinoco. Ho wished to procure some of these animals 
at Calabozo, but the dread of them is so great among 
the Indians and common people, that the offer of 
reward was unavailing, though it was pretended that 
by taking the precaution of chewing a little tobacco, 
they might be touched with impunity. Humboldt 
observes, that this fable of the influence of tobacco, 
on animal electricity, is as general on the continent of 
South America, as the belief among mariners of the 
effect of garlic and tallow on the magnetic needle. 
As the single specimen which after some time was 
brought to them afforded very unsatisfactory results, 
oui' travellers set oiit themselves in search of others 
on the 19th, and were conducted to a stream, which 
in the season of drought forms a pool of muddy water, 
suiTOunded by fine trees. It is diflficult to catch the 
gymnoti with nets, on account of their extreme agility 
and their burying themselves in the mud like serpents ; 
but they may be taken by the aid of the roots of certain 
plants, which, when thrown into the water, intoxicate 
or benumb them. Our travellers were about to pro- 
cure some by this latter method, when the Indians 
told them that they would embarhascar con cavallos, 
set the fish to sleep, or intoxicate them with horses. 
It was difficult to conceive what this meant; but in a 
short time the guides, who had gone out into the 
plain, returned with about thirty horses and mules, 
which they forthwith drove into the pool. A singular 
scene then ensued. 

" The extraordinary noise caused by the horses' 
hoofs, makes the fish issue from the mud, and excites 
them to combat. These yellowish and livid eels, resem- 


bling large aquatic serpents, swim on the surface of the 
water, and crowd under the bellies of the horses and 
mules. A contest between animals of so different an 
organization, furnishes a very striking spectacle. The 
Indians, proyided with harpoons and long slender 
reeds, surround the pool closely; and some climb upon 
the trees, the branches of which extend horizontally 
over the surface of the water. By their wild cries, and 
the length of their reeds, they prevent the horses from 
running away, and reaching the bank of the pool: the 
eels, stunned by the noise, defend themselves by the 
repeated discharge of their electric batteries. Dming 
a long time they seem to prove victorious. Several 
horses sink beneath the violence of the invisible 
strokes which they receive from all sides, in organs 
the most essential to life, and stunned by the force 
and frequency of the shocks, disappear under the water. 
Others panting, with mane erect, and haggard eyes, 
expressing anguish, raise themselves, and endeavour to 
flee from the storm by which they are overtaken. They 
are driven back by the Indians into the middle of the 
water; but a small number succeed in eluding the 
active vigilance of the fishermen. These regain the 
shore, stumbling at every step, and stretch themselves 
on the sand, exhausted with fatigue, and their limbs 
benumbed by the electric shocks of the g^nnnoti. 

" In less than five minutes, two horses were drowned. 
The eel, being five feet long, and pressing itself against 
the belly of the horse, makes a discharge along the 
whole extent of its electric organ. It attacks at once 
the heart, the intestines, and the plexus coeliacus of the 
abdominal nerves. It is natural that the effect felt 
by the horses should be more powerful than that pro- 
duced upon man, by the touch of the same fish, at only 


one of his extremities. The horses are probably not 
killed, but only stunned. They are drowned by the 
impossibility of arising amid the prolonged struggle 
between the other horses and the eels. 

"We had little doubt that the fishing would termi- 
nate by killing successively all the animals engaged; 
but by degrees the impetuosity of this unequal combat 
diminished, and the wearied gymnoti dispersed. They 
require a long rest, and abundant nourishment, to 
repair what they have lost of galvanic force. The 
mules and horses appear less frightened; their manes 
tire no longer bristled; and their eyes express less 
dread. The gymnoti approach timidly the edge of the 
marsh, where they are taken by means of small har- 
poons fastened to long cords. When the cords are 
very dry, the Indians feel no shock in raising the fish 
into the air. In a few minutes we had fixe large eels, 
the greater part of which were but slightly wounded." 

A few more were taken by the same means towards 
evening; and thus there were a sufficient number of 
specimens on which to make experiments. Some of 
those measured, were from five feet four inches, to five 
feet seven inches in length. The weight of one, four 
feet one inch long, was fifteen pounds and three- 
quarters troy, and its transverse diameter exceeded 
three inches and a half. The colour was a fine olive- 
green; the under part of the head being yeUow, min- 
gled with red. The swimming-bladder is of large size, 
and resting upon the electric organs, which occupy 
more than two-thirds of the fish. 

It would be an act of temerity, we are told, to expose 
one's self to the first shocks of a large and strongly 
irritated gymnotus, — the stroke from such a fish being 
productive of a very violent pain and numbness, ex- 


ceeding that which results from the discharge of a 
Ley den jar. Humboldt received so dreadful a shock 
by imprudently placing his feet on one just taken out 
of the water, that he was affected during the rest of 
the day with a violent pain in the knees, and in almost 
every joint. If a weak and exhausted one be touched, 
a twitching sensation is felt, which is communicated 
from the hand to the elbow; a kind of internal vibra- 
tion ensues for two or three seconds, and is then fol- 
lowed by a painful torpidity. The electric action of the 
fish depends entirely on its will, and it has the power 
of directing the energy of its organs to any particular 
part of the external object affecting it. The same sub- 
stances which transmit or intercept the electric action 
of a conductor charged by a Leyden jar or a Voltaic 
pile, transmit or intercept the action of the gymnotus 
upon man ; and in the water the shock can be conveyed 
to a considerable distance. There has never been any 
spark observed to issue from the body of the eel wheu 

The gymnoti are objects of dread to the natives, and 
their presence is considered as the principal cause of 
the want of fish in the ponds and pools of the Llanos. 
"The gymnoti kill many more than they devour; and the 
Indians told us, that when they take young alligators 
and gymnoti at the same time in very strong nets, the 
latter never display the slightest trace of a wound, 
because they disable the young alligators before they 
are attacked by them. All the inhabitants of the 
waters dread the society of the gynmoti. Lizards, 
tortoises, and frogs seek the pools, where they are 
secm-e from their action. It became necessaiy to 
change the direction of a road near Urituco, because 
these electrical eels were so numerous in one river, that 


they eveiy year killed a gi-eat number of mules of 
burden as they forded the water*." 

On the 24th of March, the travellers left Calabozo, 
and advanced into the southern part of the Llanos. As 
they proceeded, they found the ground more dusty, 
more destitute of herbage; and more cracked by the 
effect of long drought. The palm-trees disappeared by 
degi'ees. The thermometer kept, from eleven in the 
morning till sunset, at 93° or 95°. " The more," says 
Humboldt, "the air appeared calm at eight or ten feet 
high, the more we were enveloped in those whirlwinds 
of dust caused by the little currents of air that sweep 
the gTomid. About four o'clock in the afternoon, we 
found a young Indian girl stretched uf>on the savannah. 
She was quite naked, lay upon her back, and appeared 
to be only twelve or thirteen years of age. Exhausted 
with fatigue and thirst, her eyes, nostrils, and mouth 
filled with dust, she breathed with a rattling in her 
throat, and was unable to answer our questions. A 
pitcher overturned, and half filled with sand, was lying 
at her side. Happily one of our mules was laden with 
water; and we roused the young girl from her lethargic 
state by washing her face, and forcing her to di'ink a 
few drops of wine. She was at first frightened at see- 
ing herself suiTOunded by so many persons; but by 
degrees she took courage, and conversed with our 
guides. She judged from the position of the sun that 
she must have remained during several hours in that 
state of lethargy." She could not be prevailed upon to 
mount one of the beasts of burden, or to return to 
Urituco ; she was therefore furnished with some water, 

* We have given on the opposite page a representation of the Gymno- 
tus; and at the same time, one of another electrical animal called the 
Torpedo, which is a flat fish, found on various coasts of Europe, and 
measuring, when full grown, about twenty inches in length. 

The G-ymnotus Electricus. 

The Torpedo. 


and resuming her way, was soon separated from her 
preservers by a cloud of dust. 

In the, night the travellers forded the Eio Urituco, 
which is infested with a breed of crocodiles remarkable 
for their ferocity, although those in a neighbouring 
stream are not at all dangerous. They were advised 
to prevent their dogs from going to drink in the rivers, 
as it often happened that the crocodiles came out of the 
water and pursued dogs on the banks. " The manners 
of animals," observes Humboldt, " vary in the same 
species, according to local circumstances, difficult to 
investigate. We were shown a hut, or rather a kind 
of shed, in which our host of Calabozo, Don Miguel 
Cousin, had witnessed a very extraordinary scene. 
Sleeping with one of his friends on a bench covered 
with leather, Don Miguel was awakened early in the 
morning by violent shakes and a horrible noise. Clods 
of earth were thrown into the middle of the hut. 
Presently a young crocodile, two or three feet long, 
issued from under the bed, darted at a dog that lay on 
the threshold of the door, and missing him in the im- 
petuosity of his spring, ran toward the beach to attain 
the river. On examining the spot where the barbacon, 
or bedstead, was placed, the cause of this strange 
adventure was easily discovered. The ground was dis- 
turbed to a considerable depth. It was dried mud 
that had covered the crocodile in that state of lethargy, 
or summer sleep, in which many of the species lie 
dm-ing the absence of rains amid the Llanos. The 
noise of men and horses, perhaps the smell of the dog, 
had awakened the crocodile. The hut being placed at 
the edge of the pool, and inundated during part of the 
year, the crocodile had no doubt entered, at the time of 
the inundations of the savannahs, by the same opening 


by wliicli M. Pozo saw it go out." Enormous boas or 
water-serpents are often found by the Indians in the 
same lethargic state. 

On the 25th of March, the travellers crossed the 
smoothest part of the plains of Caraccas, the Ifesa de 
Pavones, on which not a single object fifteen inches 
high could be discovered, with the exception of the 
cattle which they met in large herds. On the 27th 
they reached the Villa de San Fernando, on the river 
Apure, where their journey across the Llanos ended. 

The town of San Fernando, the capital of the missions 
of the Capuchins, in the province of Varinas, was 
founded in 1789, or little more than ten years before 
the visit of our travellers. It is advantageously 
situated on the Apure (a tributai-y of the Orinoco), 
near the mouth of another stream which traverses the 
whole of Varinas ; and thus all the productions of the 
province pass through it on their way to the coast. The 
place is remarkable for the excessive heat which pre- 
vails there during the greater part of the year. The 
temperature of the white sand on the shores, when ex- 
posed to the sun, was ].06-|-° at two o'clock in the 
afternoon; eighteen inches above the sand the thermo- 
meter stood at 109°, and at six feet above it, nearly 
102°. In the shade it was at 97°. Yet high as these 
temperatures were, an increase of five degrees ensued 
when the wind began to blow. 

The Apure, like other streams in South America, 
swells during the rainy season, so as to overflow its 
banks, and inundate a vast extent of the adjoining 
level. At this period the savannahs are covered with 
water twelve or fourteen feet deep; the country pre- 
sents the appearance of a vast lake, with the scattered 
villages and farm-houses rising in it on islands scarcely 

INmsT)ATIONS. 125 

elevated above its sui-face. Commerce is then very 
active ; the inhabitants cross the flats in then- boats, 
instead of ascending the rivers, and by so doing avoid 
the strong currents, and escape the danger to which 
the trees carried down the streams would expose them. 
Great numbers of horses, mules, and cows perish before 
they have time to reach the higher grounds ; and their 
carcases furnish an abundant repast to the camuros^ov 
carrion vultures, which have "the name of Pharaoh's 
chickens, and render the same service to the inhabitants 
of the Llanos, as the vultui' percnopterus to the inha- 
bitants of Egypt." The mares, followed by then- colts, 
may be seen swimming about and feeding on the grass, 
the top of which alone rises above the water. In this 
state they are pursued by the crocodiles, and those 
which are fortunate enough to escape destruction often 
bear the prints of the teeth of these carnivorous 
reptiles *. 

* Dr. Southey, in his History of Brazil , relates an extremely interest- 
ing anecdote, -whicli may be here introduced from its reference to the 
swelling of the South American rivers. In the sixteenth century, when 
the Jesuit missionaries, despising toil and danger, penetrated into 
ParagTiay for the conversion of the Indians, Ortega, one of the most 
active, was in the habit of making long journeys among the native 
tribes, accompanied by a few converts. "In one of these excursions 
Ortega was caught by a sudden flood between two rivers ; both over- 
flowed, and presently the whole plain had the appearance of one bound- 
less lake. The missionary, and the party of neophytes who accompanied 
him, were used to inconveniences of this kind, and thought to escape as 
heretofore, with marching mid-deep in water ; but the waters continued 
to rise, and compelled them to take to the trees for safety. The storm 
increased, the rain continued, and the inundation augmented; and, 
among the beasts and reptiles whom the waters had surprised, one of 
the huge American serpents approached the tree upon which Ortega and 
his catechist had taken refuge, and, coiling roimd one of the branches, 
began to ascend, whUe they fully expected to be devoured, having 
neither means of escape nor of defence ; the branch by which he sought 
to lift himself broke under his weight, and the monster swam off. But 
though they were thus delivered from this danger, their situation was 


"We cannot reflect," says Hnmboldt, "on the effects 
of these inundations, without admiring the prodigious 
pliability of the organization of the animals that man 
has subjected to his sway. In Greenland the dog 
eats the refuse of the fisheries; and, when fish are 
wanting, feeds on sea- weed. The ass, and the horse, 
originally natives of the cold and barren plains of 
Upper Asia, follow man to the New World, return to 
the savage state, and lead a restless and painful life in 
the burning climate of the tropics. Pressed alter- 
nately by excess of drought and of humidity, they 
sometimes seek a pool in the midst of a bare and a 
dusty soil, to quench their thirst ; and at other times 
flee from water, and the overflowing rivers, as menaced 
by an enemy that threatens them on all sides. Ha- 
rassed during the day by gad-flies and moschettoes, 
the horses, mules and cows find themselves attacked 
at night by enormous bats, that fasten on their backs, 
and cause wounds that become dangerous, because 
they are filled with ascarida?, and other hurtful insects. 
In the time of great drought, the mules gnaw even 
the thorny melocactus, (melon thistle,) in order to 
drink its cooling juice, and draw it forth as from a 

truly dreadful ; two days passed, and, in the middle of the second night, 
one of the Indians came swimming towards the tree by the lightning's 
light, and called to Ortega, telling him that six of his companions were 
at the point of death; they who had not yet been baptized entreated 
him to baptize them; and those who had received that sacrament, 
requested absolution ere they died. The Jesuit fastened his catechist 
to the bough by which he held, then let himself down into the water, 
and swam to perform these offices; he had scarcely completed them 
before five of these six people dropped and sunk ; and, when he got back 
to his own tree the water had reached the neck of his catechist, whom he 
had now to untie, and help him to gain a higher branch. The flood, 
however, now began to abate. Ortega, in swimming among the thorny 
boughs, received a wound in his leg, which was never thoroughly 
healed, during the two-andtwenty years that he survived this dreadful 


vegetable fountain. During the great inundations, 
these same animals lead an amphibious life, surrounded 
by crocodiles, water-serpents, and manatees. Yet, such 
are the immutable laws of nature, their races are pre- 
served in the struggle with the elements, and amid so 
many sufferings and dangers. When the waters retire, 
and the rivers return again into their beds, the savan- 
nah is spread over with a fine odoriferous grass : and 
the animals of Europe and Upper Asia seem to enjoy, 
as in their native climate, the renewed vegetation of 

Chapter XI. 

Preparations for the voyage down the Apivre — The trite of the Yamroes 
— Wild animals on the banks of the river — The vegetation— Croco- 
diles— Story of an Indian girl seized by one— Chiguires — An enor- 
mous jaguai' — Senor Don Ignacio, the jaguar hunter — Incidents of 
a night — Xoeturnal noises in the forests — The Caribe fish— Hum- 
boldt's adventure with a jaguar— Manatees— Junctm'e of the Apure 
and Orinoco, 

Our travellers having taken a short rest at San Fer- 
nando, proceeded on then- way to the Orinoco. There 
was a land route from the town thither, and an 
obliging offer to conduct them over it was made by an 
old farmer, bearing the name of Don Francisco Sanchez, 
whose dress, as Humboldt remarks, denoted the great 
simplicity of manners prevailing in these distant 
regions. He had acquired a fortune of 100,000 pias- 
tres, yet he mounted his horse bare-legged and bare- 
footed, though armed with large silver spurs. His 
offer, however, was not accepted; the rainy season had 
already begun, and the land route lay across an un- 
healthy and uninteresting flat. The travellers there- 


fore preferred the longer route down the Apure, and 
accordingly hired a large canoe, or laucha, as the 
Spaniards call it, managed by a pilot and four Indians. 
In the stern was constructed a sort of cabin, covered 
with the leaves of the corypha; and a table and benches 
were formed of some ox-hides stretched on frames of 
Brazil wood. A stock of provisions, sufl&cient for the 
consumption of a month, was laid in ; the river itself 
abounds in fish, manatees, and turtle; and its banks 
are frequented by numberless birds, of which the most 
useful to man are the pauxi and guacharaca, the 
turkeys and pheasants, as it were, of those countries. 
The missionary with whom they had lodged, supplied 
them with wine, oranges, and tamarinds ; and their 
store was completed by the addition of some fishing 
instruments, fire-arms, and casks of brandy, for bar- 
tering with the natives. 

They embarked on the afternoon of the 30th of 
March, Passing the mouth of the river Apurito, they 
passed along the island of the same name, formed 
between the Apure and Guarico, and extending seventy- 
six miles in length. On the left bank of the Apure, 
they saw the huts of the Yaruroes, a tribe who live by 
hunting and fishing, and chiefly supply the jaguar 
skins which find their way into the European markets 
as those of the tiger. Humboldt remarked in them 
some of the characteristics of the Mongols, a stern 
look, an elongated eye, and high cheek-bones; the nose, 
however, was prominent throughout its whole length. 
The night was passed at a small sugar-plantation, 
called Diamante; and a contrary wind detained the 
travellers on shore till noon of the following day. 

Leaving Diamante, they entered a district inhabited 
only by tigers, crocodiles, and cMguires, a large species 


of the guinea-pig; flights of birds were seen so closely 
crowded together, as to resemble a dark cloud. The 
river gradually widened, one bank being generally 
sandy and bare, the other higher and covered with tall 
trees. Sometimes it was bordered with forests on both 
sides, and appeared like a straight canal, 960 feet in 
breadth. The vegetation was singularly disposed: 
along the margins were bushes of sauso, looking as if 
they had been clipped by the hand of man, and forming 
a kind of hedge four feet high, in which openings had 
been made by jaguars, tapirs, and pecaris, to reach the 
water and drink. These animals were not alarmed at 
the approach of the boat, and the travellers had ample 
time to view them as they slowly walked on the shore 
and retreated into the forest. Behind. the sauso hedge, 
copses of cedars, brazillettoes, and lignum- vitee, reared 
their heads, with here and there a palm-tree, and a 
few scattered trunks of the thorny piritu and corozo. 
In this scene of untamed and savage nature, the tra- 
veller at one moment is delighted with the sight of the 
jaguar, the beautiful panther of America ; at another, 
with the peacock, pheasant, or cashew bird, with its 
black plumage and its tufted head, moving slowly 
along the sausos. Gliding down the stream, animals 
of the most different classes succeed each other. "It 
is just as it was in Paradise," said the old Indian pilot 
of the missions to our travellers; and Humboldt ob- 
serves, that " everything indeed here recals to mind that 
state of the primitive world, the innocence and felicity 
of which, ancient and venerable traditions have trans- 
mitted to all nations; but in carefully observing the 
manners of animals among themselves, we see that 
they punctually avoid each other. The golden age has 
ceased, and in this paradise of American forests, as 



well as everywhere else, sad and long experience has 
taught all beings that benignity is seldom found in 
alliance with strength." 

"\Miere the sauso hedge did not approach close to the 
stream, parties of eight or ten crocodiles were often 
seen stretched on the sand, reposing motionless on the 
sand, with their jaws open at right angles. So nume- 
rous were these monstrous reptiles, that along the whole 
course of the river there were usually five or six in 
view at the same time; yet, the swelling of the river 
having scarcely begun, there must have been many 
more buried in the dried mud of the savannahs. The 
length of one found dead was seventeen feet nine 
inches; another measured twenty-three feet. The 
species is that of the real crocodile, such as is found 
in the Xile, and not that of the cayman or alligator 
which is more commonly found in the New World, — to 
Avhich indeed it is peculiar. Our travellers were in- 
formed by their guides that at San Fernando scarcely 
a year passed in which several persons, especially 
females, were not drowned by these crocodiles. 

"They related to us," says Humboldt, "the history 
of a young girl of Uritueu, who, by singular intrepidity 
and presence of mind, saved herself from the jaws of a 
crocodile. "When she felt herself seized, she sought the 
eyes of the animal, and plunged her fingers into them 
Avith such violence, that the pain forced the crocodile 
to let her loose, after having bitten off" the lower part of 
her left arm. The girl, notwithstanding the enormous 
quantity of blood she had lost, happily reached the 
shore, swimming with the hand she had still left. In 
those desert countries where man is ever wrestling with 
nature, discourse daily turns on the means that may be 
employed to escape from a tiger, a boa or traga venado. 



or a crocodile; every one prepares himself in some 
sort for the dangers that await him. '1 knew/ said 
the young girl of Uritucu coolly, 'that the cayman lets 
go his hold, if you push your fingers in his eyes.' Long 
after my return to Europe, I learned that, in the inte- 
rior of Africa, the negroes know and practise the same 
means. Who does not recollect, with a lively interest, 
Isaaco, the guide of the unfortunate Mungo Park, 
seized twice, near Boolinkoomboo, by a crocodile, and 
twice escaping from the jaws of the monster, having 
succeeded in placing his fingers under water in 
both his eyes*? The African Isaaco, and the young 
American, owed their safety to the same presence of 
mind, and the same combination of ideas." Yet this 
expedient is not always attended with success. 

* The incident referred to occurred in crossing the river Wonda, one 
of the affluents of the Senegal, and is thus related in Park's JoumaL 
' ' There being but one canoe, it was near noon before all the bundles 
were carried over. The transporting of the asses was very difl&cult, the 
river being shallow and rocky ; wherever their feet touched the bottom, 
they generally stood still. Our guide, Isaaco, was very active in push- 
ing the asses into the water, and shoving along the canoe ; but as he 
was afraid that we could not have them all carried over in the course of 
the day, he attempted to drive six of the asses across the river further 
down, where the water was shallower. When he had reached the mid- 
dle of the river, a crocodile rose close to him, and instantly seizing him 
by the left thigh, pulled him imder water. With wonderful presence 
of mind, he felt for the head of the animal, and thrust his finger into ita 
eye; on which it quitted its hold, and Isaaco attempted to reach the 
further shore, calling out for a knife. But the crocodile returned and 
seized him by the other thigh, and again pulled him imder water. 
He had recourse to the same expedient, and thrust his fingers into its 
eyes with such violence, that it again quitted him, and when it rose, 
flounced about on the surface of the water, as if stupid, and then swam 
down the middle of the river. Isaaco proceeded to the other side, 
bleeding very much. As soon as the canoe returned, I went over, and 
foimd him very much lacerated. The wound on the left thigh was 
four inches in length ; that on the right not quite so large, but very 
doqp ; betides several single teeth wounds on his baok." 


These animals move slowly when not excited, but in 
attacking any object, their motions are abrupt and 
rajDid. In running, they make a rustling noise, which 
is apparently caused by the scales; they bend the 
back and seem to be higher than when at rest. Though 
they generally advance in a straight line, they can 
easily turn when they please ; and they swim with great 
facility, even against the most rapid current. Their 
chief food in the Apure seemed to be the unhappy 
chiguires, who, having no weapons of defence, fall a 
prey to the jaguars on land, and the crocodiles in the 
water. In a sinuosity, called the Vuelta del Joval, the 
canoe was surrounded by these creatures, swimming 
like dogs, with the head and neck out of the water. 
These animals were seen, too, in herds on the banks; 
they displayed no fear on the approach of man, butihe 
sight of a dog put them to flight, though they ran so 
slowly that two of them were caught. Their flesh has 
the smell of musk ; but the monks, it is said, do not 
scruple to eat the hams which are made of it, as they 
place it, in their zoological classification, in the same 
class with the armadillo, and the manatee, near the 
tortoise, which last they place next to the fish family. 

About the Vuelta del Joval eveiything assumed a 
wild and awful character. A large crocodile, sleeping 
on the shore in the midst of a group of these animals, 
awoke when the canoe approached, and moved slowly 
into the stream, without disturbing its companions. 
Here, too, an enormous jaguar was seen, stretched 
beneath the shade of a large zamang or mimosa; it 
surpassed in size all the tigers w^hich Humboldt had 
seen in the collections of Europe. In its paw it held 
a chiguire, which it had just killed; around it were 
flocks of zamuro vultuves, waiting to devour the remains 


of the repast. The mixture of holdness and timidity 
which these birds displayed was curious; every now 
and then they advanced within a few feet of the jaguar, 
but, at the slightest movement which he made, they 
instantly retreated. With the view of examining 
more closely the manners of these animals, our travel- 
lers got into their little boat ; but the noise of the 
oars disturbed the jaguar, and he retired slowly behind 
the sauso bushes. The vultm-es, profiting by his ab- 
sence, pounced upon his victim; but the watchful 
monster suddenly leapt into the midst of them, and, 
seizing upon the carcass, carried it off. 

Near this place, they passed the night, as usual, in 
the open air, in the plantation of which, the proprietor 
Avas engaged in the occupation of hunting jaguars. This 
amusing individual, Senor Don Ignacio by name, was 
nearly naked, and had a complexion as brown as that 
of a zambo; yet he considered himself to be a white, 
and prided himself on being of the European race. 
His wife and daughter Donna Isabella and Donna 
Manuela, were as lightly clothed as himself. Proud as 
he was of his nobility, and the colom* of his skin, Senor 
Don Ignacio had not taken the trouble to construct even 
a hut of palm leaves; but was content to sling his ham- 
mock between two trees. At his polite invitation, our 
travellers provided similar accommodation for them- 
selves in his vicinity. In the course of the night, 
a thunder-storm came on, and wetted them to the 
skin; and Donna Isabella's cat, which had taken up its 
lodging in a tamarind-tree, fell into the hut of oiie of 
the strangers, who conceiving himself to be attacked 
by a wild beast, raised a terrible outcry, which sadly 
discomposed the rest of the party. The rain fell in tor- 
rents all the rest of the night; and in the morning, the 



drenched and shivering travellers were congratulated 
by their complacent host, upon their good fortune in 
sleeping among whites and persons of rank, instead of 
reposing on the strand. Don Ignacio prided himself on 
the valour which he had displayed against the Indians, 
and the services which he had rendered to God and 
the king, in carrying off children from their parents to 
be distributed among the missions. " What a singular 
spectacle," exclaims Humboldt, "to find in that vast 
solitude a man who believes himself of European race, 
and knows no other shelter but the shade of a tree, 
with all the vain pretensions, all the hereditary preju- 
dices, all the errors of long civilization!" 

Quitting their amusing host at sunrise on the follow- 
ing morning, our travellers glided down the river, with 
vast forests on either hand. They passed a low island, 
crowded with flamingoes, roseate spoonbills, herons, 
and water-hens, which presented a great diversity of 
colours. On the right bank, they saw a small Indian 
mission, where a tribe of Guamoes dwelt in a few 
huts of palm leaves. The night, beautiful and moon- 
light, was spent upon the margin of the river on a 
bare and extensive beach; as there were no trees on 
the banks, they stuck the oars in the ground, and 
suspended their hammocks between them. Great diflfi.- 
culty was experienced in procuring dry wood for the 
fires, which were needed to keep off" the wild beasts, 
the forests being quite impenetrable. Towards mid- 
night there arose, in the wood, a terrific and appalling 
noise, which banished sleep; it proceeded from the 
wild beasts, who, the Indians said, were keeping the 
feast of the full moon. Amid the clamour, the In- 
dians could distinguish the soft cries of the sapajous, 
the moans of the alouates, (species of monkeys,) the 


howlings of the jaguars, of the coiiguars, (or American 
lions,) of the peearis and the sloths, and the voices of 
the curassows, the parraquas, and other gallinaceous 
birds. When the tigers approached the edge of the 
forest, a dog, which the travellers had with them, 
began to howl and seek refuge under the hammocks. 
Occasionally, a long silence ensued, and again the 
cries of the animals came from the tops of the trees, 
and were followed by the long and sharp whistling of 
the monkeys. 

Our travellers became afterwards better accustomed 
to these nocturnal scenes; during the course of whole 
months, they heard the same noises repeated, whenever 
the forest approached the bed of the rivers. The se- 
curity displayed by the Indians, inspires travellers with 
confidence. "You persuade yourself, with them, that 
the tigers are afraid of fire, and do not attack a man 
lying in his hammock." These attacks are, in fact, ex- 
tremely rare, and, during his abode in South America, 
Humboldt remembers only one example, — the case of 
a Llanero, who was found torn in his hammock, op- 
posite the island of Achaguas. He considers this agi- 
tation in the forests to be the effect of some contest 
that has arisen in the depths of the forests. "The 
jaguars, for instance, pursue the peearis, and the 
tapirs, which having no defence but in their numbers, 
flee in close troops, and break down the bushes they 
find in their way. Aff^righted at this struggle, the timid 
and mistrustful monkeys answer, from the tops of the 
trees, the cries of the large animals ; they awaken the 
birds that live in society, and, by degrees, the whole 
assemblage is in movement. It is not always in a fine 
moonlight, but, more particularly, at the time of a 
storm and violent showers, that this tumult takes place 
among the wild beasts. '.May Heaven grant to them a 


quiet night and repose, and to us also !' said the monk, 
who accompanied us to the Rio Negro, when, sinking 
with fatigue, he assisted in arranging our accommoda- 
tion for the night. It was, indeed, a strange situation to 
find no silence in the solitude of woods. In the inns 
of Spain, we dread the sharp sound of guitars from 
the next apartment; in those of the Orinoco, which 
are an open beach, or the shelter of a solitary tree, we 
are afraid of being disturbed in our sleep by voices 
from the forest." 

Starting before sunrise, they continued to descend 
the river, the stream of which was crowded by por- 
poises, and its banks with aquatic birds. The naviga- 
tion was rather dangerous, on account of the large 
trees which remained obliquely fixed in the mud, like 
the snags, as they are called, Avhich so often injure the 
steam-boats in the rivers of North America. Landing 
near the Vuelta del Basilio to gather plants, they saw 
on a tree two beautiful jet-black monkeys of an un- 
known species ; and the Indians pointed out a nest of 
iguanas, a species of lizard, of which the flesh is very 
white, and, next to that of the armadillo, is the best 
food to be found in the huts of the natives. Again 
passing the night on the beach, they resumed their 
solitary voyage ; and, on their way, caught the fish 
known by the name of the carihe or caribito, from its 
delight in blood. This little animal is only four or 
five inches in length, yet it attacks persons who go into 
the water, and, with its sharp triangular teeth, often 
tears away large pieces of their flesh. It is the dread 
of the Indians, several of whom showed the scars of 
deep wounds in the calf of the leg and thigh made by 
this animal. These fishes live at the bottom of rivers ; 
but, if a few drops of blood be shed in the water, they 
arrive by thousands at the surface. No one veU' 

Iguana, or EataDie Lizard. 

T-welve-lDanded Arraadillo, (Dasypus tatouay.) 


tures to bathe where the caribe is found; and thus it 
becomes as great a scourge in the water, as the 
moschettoes in the air. 

The party landed at noon in a desert spot, where 
Humboldt went away from his companions, and walked 
along the beach, in order to observe a group of croco- 
diles sleeping in the sun. Suddenly he perceived the 
recent footmarks of a beast of prey, and turning his 
eyes from the river towards the forest, beheld a huge 
jaguar lying under the thick foliage of a ceiba within 
eighty steps of him. This was, to use his own expres- 
sion, one of those "accidents in life, against which 
we might seek in vain to fortify our reason." 

"I was extremely frightened, yet sufficiently master 
of myself and my motions, to enable me to follow 
the advice which the Indians had so often given us, 
how to act in such cases. I continued to walk on, 
without running ; avoided moving my arms ; and 
thought I observed that the jaguar's attention was fixed 
on a herd of chiguires, which were crossing the river. 
I then began to return, making a large circuit toward 
the edge of the water; as the distance increased, I 
thought I might accelerate my pace. How often was 
I tempted to look back, in order to assure myself that 
I was not pursued ! Happily, I yielded very tardily to 
this desire. The jaguar had remained motionless. 
The enormous cats with spotted robes are so well fed 
in countries abounding in chiguires, pecaris, and deer, 
that they rarely attack men. I arrived at the boat, 
out of breath, and related my adventure to the Indians. 
They appeared very little moved by it; yet after hav- 
ing loaded our firelocks, they accompanied us to the 
ceiba, beneath which the jaguar had lain. He was 
there no longer, and it would have been imprudent 

1'4;2 MANATEES. 

tfohave pursued him into the forest, where we must have 
dispersed, or marched in file, amid intertwining lianas." 

On the evening of the same day, (the 3rd of April,) 
the travellers passed the mouth of a stream, named the 
Cano del Manati, on account of the immense number 
of manatees caught there every year. This aquatic 
animal abounds in the Orinoco, below the cataracts, 
and in its tributaries, the Meta and the Apure; it 
generally attains the length of ten or twelve feet, 
and weighs six or eight hundred pounds. Its flesh is 
said to be veiy savoury, and to resemble pork, but is 
considered unwholesome ; when salted and dried in 
the sun, it will keep for a year. The monks take the 
liberty of regarding it as a fish ; and thus it is in great 
request during Lent. The fat is used in the opera- 
tions of cooking and for the lamps in the churches ; the 
hide, which is a foot and a-half in thickness, is cut into 
slips, which serve for cordage, and likewise for the 
whips which are used to punish the slaves. 

The night was passed on the shore, two persons keep- 
ing watch. The fires lighted by the boatmen attracted 
the crocodiles and dolphins; a jaguar, with her cub, 
approached the party, but was driven away, and soon 
afterwards the dog was bitten in the nose by a large 
vampire bat. On the following night, as they were 
about to sling the hammocks, they discovered two large 
jaguars concealed behind a tree ; so they embarked 
again, and took up their quarters elsewhere. On the 
5th of April, they reached the point where the Apui'e 
joins the Orinoco ; as they approached the junction, 
they were much struck with the decrease of water. The 
breadth of the stream was reduced to between 130 and ■ 
170 yards, and its depth to twenty feet. The canoe 
touched several times on shoals, and was towed by a line. 


Chapter XII. 

Embarkation en the Orinoco — Change of scenery — A Carib Chieftain 
— Traditions of the Natives — Gathering of turtles' eggs on the 
shores of the Orinoco — The Missionaries — Cunning of the jaguars. 

Soon after leaving the Apure and entering upon the 
Orinoco, our travellers found themselves in a region 
which presented an entirely diiferent aspect. "An im- 
mense plain of water," says Humboldt, " stretched 
before us like a lake, as far as we could see. White- 
topped waves rose to the height of several feet, from 
the conflict of the breeze and current. The air re- 
sounded no longer with the piercing cries of the heron, 
the flamingoes, and the spoonbills, crossing in long files 
from one shore to the other. Our eyes sought in vain 
those water-fowls, the inventive snares of which vary 
in each tribe. All nature appears less animated. 
Scarcely could we discover in the hollows of the waves 
a few large crocodiles, cutting obliquely, by the help of 
their long tails, the surface of the agitated waters. 
The horizon was bounded by a zone of forests, but 
these forests no where reached so far as the bed of 
the river. A vast beach, constantly parched by the 
heat of the sun, desert and bare as the shores of the sea, 
resembled at a distance, from the effects of the mirage, 
pools of stagnant water. These sandy shores, far from 
fixing the limits of the river, rendered them uncertain 
by approaching or withdrawing them alternately, ac- 
cording to the variable action of the inflected rays.'* 

"In these scattered features of the landscape, in this 
character of solitude and of greatness, we recognise the 


course of the Orinoco, one of the most majestic rivers 
of the New World. The water, like the land, displays 
everywhere a characteristic and peculiar aspect. The 
bed of the Orinoco resembles not the bed of the Meta, 
the Guaviare, the Rio Negro, or the Amazon. These 
differences do not depend altogedier on the breadth or 
the velocity of the current; they are connected with a 
multitude of impressions, which it is easier to perceive 
upon the spot, than to define with precision. Thus, the 
mere form of the waves, the tint of the waters, the 
aspect of the sky and the clou<is, would lead an ex- 
perienced navigator to guess, whether he were in the 
Atlantic, in the Mediterranean, or in the equinoctial, 
part of the great ocean," 

The short broken waves at the junction of the two - 
rivers, rendered the passage into the Orinoco exceed- 
ingly disagreeable. The breadth of the river here was 
found to be nearly 12,200 feet, or about two miles and 
a third; in the height of the rainy season, it is said to 
extend to about 33,300 feet. As they ascended the 
stream, the distant mountains of Encarmada, forming 
a continued chain from west to east, seemed to rise 
from the water, as land rises above the horizon at sea. 
At the little port or landing-place of the same name the 
travellers landed to examine the neighbouring rocks; 
and here they met with a Carib cacique, who was going 
up the Orinoco in his canoe to join in the famousfishing 
of turtles' eggs. His canoe was rounded toward the 
bottom, and followed by a smaller boat, called curiara. 
"He was seated beneath a sort of tent, toldo, con- 
structed, as well as the sail, of palm leaves. His cold 
and silent gravity, the respect with which he was 
treated by his attendants, every thing denoted him to 
be a person of importance. He was equipped^ however, 


in the same manner as his Indians. They were all 
equally naked, armed with bows and arrows, and 
covered with onoto, which is the colouring fecula of the 
bixa orellana. The chief, the domestics, the furniture, 
the boat, and the sail, were all painted red. These 
Caribbees are men of an almost athletic stature; they 
appeared to us much taller than the Indians we had 
Mtherto seen. Their smooth and thick hair, cut upon 
their foreheads, like that of choristers, their eyebrows 
painted black, their look at once gloomy and animated, 
giye their physiognomy a singular hardness of expres- 
sion. Having till then seen only the skulls of some 
Caribbees of the West India islands preserved in the 
collections of Europe, we were surprised to find, that 
these Indians, who were of pure race, had the forehead 
much more rounded than it has been described. The • 
women, very tall, but disgusting from their want of 
cleanliness, carried their infants on their backs, hav- 
ing their thighs and legs bound at certain distances 
by broad stripes of cotton cloth. The flesh, strongly 
compressed beneath the ligatures, was swelled in the 
interstices. It is generally to be observed, that the 
Caribbees are as attentive to their exterior, and their 
ornaments, as. it is possible for men to be, who are naked 
and painted red. They attach great importance to 
certain forms of the body ; and a mother would be ac- 
cused of culpable indifference to her children, if she 
did not employ artificial means to shape the calf of the 
leg after the fashion of the countr3\ As none of our 
Indians of Apure understood the Garibbee language, 
we could obtain no information from the Cacique of 
Panama respecting the encampments that are made 
at this season in several islands of the Orinoco for col- 
lecting turtles* eggs." 



Passing the night of the 0th on shore, our ti*avellcr5 
continued their ascent of the river on the following day; 
and passed a district inhabited by Indians of a gentle 
race, addicted to agriculture. The natives here, in 
common with most of the tribes of the Upper Orinoco, 
retain a belief that "at the time of the great waters, 
when their fathers w-ere obliged to betake themselves to 
their boats, in order to escape from the general inunda- 
tion, the Avavtis of the sea beat upon the rocks of 
.Encaramada.'"' The Tamanacs account for the preser- 
vation of the human race, by relating a fable similar to 
the classical story of Pyrrha and Deucalion, told by 
Ovid. They say that a man and woman saved them- 
selves on a high mountain, called Tamanacu, situated 
on the back of the Aseveru, and casting behind them, 
over their heads, the fruits of the Mauritia palm, they 
saw the nuts contained in those fruits produce men and 
women, who re-peopled the earth. Upon this subject, 
. Humboldt remarks, that similar traditions exist among 
all the nations of the earth, and "like the relics of a 
vast shipwreck are highly interesting in the study of 
our own species." He mentions, however, a curious 
record of former times, in the shape of hieroglyphical 
figures, sculptured on liigh rocks on the borders of 
the Orinoco. "A few leagues from Encaramada, a 
rock called Tepmnereme, or 'the painted rock,' rises in 
the midst of the savannah. It displays resemblances of 
animals, and symbolic figures, resembling those we 
saw in going down the Orinoco, at a small distance be- 
low Encaramada, near Caycara. Similar rocks in 
Africa are called by travellers Fetish Stones. I shall 
not make use of this term, because fetishism does not 
prevail among the natives of the Orinoco; and the 
figures of stars, of the sun, of tigers, and of crocodiles, 


which we found traced upon the rocks in spots now un- 
inhabited, appeared to me in no way to denote objects 
of worship of those nations. Between the banks of the 
Cassiquiaire and the Orinoco, between Encaramada, the 
Capuchino, and Caycara, these hieroglyphic figures are 
often placed at great heights on the walls of rock, that 
could be accessible only by constructing very lofty 
scaffolds. When the natives are asked how those 
figures could have been sculptured, they answer, with 
a smile, as relating a fact of which a stranger, a white 
man only, could be ignorant, that at the period of the 
great waters,t\\e\v fathers went to that height in boats." 
"These ancient traditions of the human race," con- 
tinues Humboldt, " which we find dispersed over the 
surface of the globe, like the fragments of a vast 
shipwreck, are of the greatest interest in the philoso- 
phical study of our species. Like certain families of 
plants, which, notwithstanding the diversity of climates, 
and the influence of heights, retain the impress of a 
common type, the traditions respecting the primitive 
state of the globe, present, among all nations, a resem- 
blance that fills us with astonishment ; so many dif- 
ferent languages, belonging to branches which appear 
to have no connexion with each other, transmit the 
same facts to us. The substance of the traditions is 
everywhere almost the same, although each nation 
gives it a local colouring. In the great continents, 
as in the smallest islands of the Pacific Ocean, it is 
always on the highest and nearest mountain that the 
remains of the human race were saved ; and this event 
appears so much the more recent the more unculti- 
vated the nations are, and the shorter the period 
since they have begun to acquire a knowledge of 
themselves. When we attentively examine the 



Mexican monuments anterior to the discovery of 
America; penetrate into the forests of the Orinoco, and 
become aware of the smallness of the European esta- 
blishments, their solitude, and the state of the tribes 
which retain their independence, — we cannot allow 
ourselves to atrribute the agreement of these accounts 
to the influence of missionaries, and to that of Chris- 
tianity, upon national traditions. Nor is it more 
probable that the sight of marine bodies, found on 
the summits of mountains, presented to the tribes of 
the Orinoco the idea of those great inundations which, 
for some time, extinguished the genus of organic life 
upon the globe." 

Continuing their voyage, they landed towards mid- 
day on an island near the Boca de la Tortuga, (or 
Mouth of the Turtle) celebrated for its annual turtle- 
fishery or harvest of eggs. They found three hundred 
Indians encamped here in huts of palm leaves, with a 
few white men, who had come to purchase the produce 
of their labour. Each tribe of the Indians lived apart 
from the rest, and was distinguished by its peculiar 
painting of the skin. Our traveller was kindly re- 
ceived by a missionary from the Uiiiana, a native of 
the country, who showed them over the island; he was 
particularly astonished to see Europeans, and thought 
the object of their expedition very mysterious, hardly 
conceiving it possible that they could have left their 
own countiT to be devoured by moschettoes, and to 
measure lands which were not their own. The ob- 
ject of his presence, he told them, was to celebrate 
mass during the " harvest," to procure a supply of oil 
for the church, and to keep in order this "republic 
of Indians and Castilians." 

According to the Indians, there were only three 


places on the Orinoco where the turtles assembled 
annually in great numbers to lay their eggs; and these 
were situated between the mouth of the Apure and 
the great cataracts. The animal, when full-grown, 
weighs from forty to fifty pounds, and its eggs are 
much larger than those of a pigeon ; it is a large fresh- 
water tortoise, called the arrau. Troops of them issue 
from the water, in the month of January, to repose on 
the sands and warm themselves in the sun; during 
February, they continue basking on the beach in the 
day-time, and, early in March, they repair to the small 
islands to lay their eggs. Thousands of them are then 
seen ranged in files along the shores ; and the Indians 
take great precautions to prevent their being dis- 
turbed, placing sentinels at certain distances, and 
desiring persons, who pass by in boats, to keep in the 
middle of the river. The laying of the eggs begins 
soon after sunset. With their hind feet, which are 
very long and furnished with claws, the animals dig 
holes about three feet in diameter, and two in depth; 
in these holes they deposit their eggs, during the night. 
In the confusion which prevails from then- anxiety to 
get rid of the burden, many of the eggs are broken. 
Sometimes daylight surprises them before they have 
finished the operation. Those that are thus situated 
are so anxiously occupied in depositing their eggs, and 
closing up the holes so as to hide them from the 
jaguars, that they become insensible to their own 
danger; they continue to work with the greatest dili- 
gence in the presence of the Indians, who call them 
**mad tortoises." 

The operation of the gathering commences about the 
beginning of April, and is conducted with great regu- 
larity under the superintendence of the missionary. 


The depth of the bed of eggs is ascertained by means 
of a pole thrust into the earth; and the ground is 
then alloted among the tribes. The natives then re- 
move the eartli with their hands, collect the eggs in 
baskets, and afterwards throAv them into long wooden 
troughs, fdled with water, where they are broken and 
stirred, and left exposed to the sun. The yolk rises to 
the surface, and, at the proper time, is taken oflf and 
boiled. When well prepared, the oil thus obtained is 
scarcely yellow and so clear and inodorous, that the 
missionaries compare it to the best olive oil; and it is 
used both for lamps and the operations of cookery. 
Humboldt, however, says that it has generally a putrid 
smell, some of the eggs having the little tortoises 
already formed in them. A space of ground, 120 feet 
in length and 30 in breadth, has been known to pro- 
duce 100 botijas or jars of oil, each containing from 
1000 to 1200 cubic inches, or from about 3^ to 4|- 
British imperial gallons. The shores near the Boca de 
la Tortuga furnish 1000 jars annually, and the three 
stations jointly are supposed to afford 5000 jars. It 
requires 5000 eggs to fill a jar; so that estimating at 
100 or 116, the number of eggs that one tortoise 
produces, and reckoning that one-third of them is 
broken at the time of laying, particularly by the "mad 
tortoises," we may presume that 330,000 tortoises 
assemble annually, and lay 33,000,000 of eggs on 
the three shores appropriated to this harvest. 

But the result of these calculations is undoubtedly 
much below the truth ; many tortoises lay only sixty or 
seventy eggs, and a great number of these animals are 
devoured by jaguars at the moment of their getting out 
of the water, A large number of eggs are taken away 
by the Indians to be eaten, after having been di'ied in 

Green Tortoise, (Ciieljs Viridis.) 

Green Turtle, (Testudc My das.) 


the sun; and many are carelessly broken by them in 
the gathering. A large number, likewise, are hatched 
before they can be dug up; Humboldt saw the whole 
shore of the Orinoco swarming with little tortoises an 
inch in diameter, which escaped with difl&culty from the 
pursuit of the Indian children. K to these considera- 
tions, remarks Humboldt, be added that all the arraus 
do not assemble on the three shores where encamp- 
ments are formed, that there are many which lay their 
eggs in solitude, we must admit that the number of 
tmrtles which annually deposit their eggs on the banks 
of the Lower Orinoco is nearly a million. 

The operations of gathering the eggs, and preparing 
the oil, occupy three weeks; and it is only during this 
period that the missionaries have any communication 
with the coast and the civilized neighbouring countries. 
The Franciscan monks, who live south of the cataracts, 
**come to the harvest of eggs less to procure oil, than 
to see, as they say, white faces, and to learn whether 
the king inhabits the "Escurial or Saint Ildefonso, 
whether the convents remain suppressed in France, 
and, above all, whether the Turks continue to keep 
quiet. These are the only subjects that are interesting 
to a monk of the Orinoco, and on which the little 
traders of Angostura, who visit the encampments, can 
give no very exact notions. In those distant countries, 
no doubt is ever entertained of the news brought by a 
white man from the capital. To doubt is almost to 
reason; and how can it be otherwise than irksome, 
to exercise the understanding, where people pass their 
lives, complaining of the heat of the climate and the 
stinging of moschettoes?" 

The jaguar is a great enemy to the tortoises; it fol- 
lows them to the shores where the laying of eggs is to 


take place, and in order to devour them at its ease, 
turns them on their backs. In this situation the tur- 
tles are unable to rise; and as the jaguar often turns 
many more than he can eat in one night, the Indians 
often avail themselves of his cunning and malignant 
avidity. " When we reflect on the difficulty that the 
naturalist finds in getting out the body of the turtle 
without separating the upper and under shells, we 
cannot sufficiently admire the suppleness of the tiger's 
paw, which empties the double armour of the arrau 
as if the adhering parts of the muscles had been cut 
by means of a surgical instrument." The jaguar will 
also pursue the turtle into the water when it is not 
very deep: and even dig up its eggs. The crocodiles, 
herons, and gaU'mazo vultures, are also great enemies 
to the turtles, devouring the little ones just after they 
are hatched. The year before Humboldt's visit the 
island of Pararuma had been so much infested by 
crocodiles, that in one night the Indians caught 
eighteen, each twelve or fifteen feet in length, by 
means of cm'ved pieces of iron, baited with the flesh 
of the manatee. 

Chapter Xm. 

Departure from the Boca de la Tortuga— Accident on the river from 
the high wind— A night on a barren island— Lethargy of the cro- 
codiles during tlie dry seasons— Passage of Baraguan — Aspect cf 
nature— Impurities of the waters — Painted Indians at Pararuma — 
Curious species of monkeys— Their sagacity. 

About four in the afternoon, the travellers set sail. 
The wind was fresh, and blew in squalls. Since they 
had entered the mountainous part of the country 

HIGH WIND. 155. 

they had discovered that their cauoe carried sail yeiy 
badly; but the master was desu'ous of showing the 
Indians, wlio were assembled on the beach, that in 
going as near the wind as possible, he should reach 
at a single tack the middle of the river. 

"At the very moment when he was boasting of his 
dexterity,'' says Humboldt, "and the boldness of his 
manoeuvre, the force of the wind upon the sail became 
so great, that we were on the point of going down. 
Our side of the boat was under water, which entered 
with such violence that it was up to our knees. It 
passed over a little table, at which I was writing, in the 
after part of the boat. I had some difficulty to save 
my journal, and, in an instant, we saw our books, 
papers, and cMed plants all swimming. M. Bonpland 
was lying asleep in the middle of the canoe. Awakened 
by the entrance of the water, and the cries of the In- 
dians, he judged of om* situation with that coolness 
which he always displayed in the most difficult circum- 
stances. The lee-side righting itself from time to time 
during the squaU, he did not consider the boat as lost. 
He thought that were we even forced to abandon it, we 
should save ourselves by swimming, since there was no 
crocodile in sight. Amid this uncertainty, we saw the 
cordage of the sail suddenly give way. The same gust 
of wind that had thro^vn us on our beam, served also 
to right us. We instantly laboured to bale the boat 
with calebashes; the sail was set afresh; and in less, 
than half an hour, we were again in a state to proceed. 
The wind had abated a little. Squalls alternating with 
dead calms are veiy common in that part of the 
Orinoco which is bordered by mountains. They be- 
come very dangerous for boats deeply laden, and with- 
out decks. We had escaped as by a miracle. To the 


reproaches that were heaped on our pilot for having 
kept too near the wind, he opposed his Indian phlegm, 
and answered coolly, 'that the whites would not want 
sun enough on those banks to dry their papers.* We 
lost only one book, the first volume of the Genera, 
Plantarum, of Schreber, which had fallen into the 
water. Such losses are felt by those who are reduced 
to a small number of works of science." 

At the beginning of the night, they landed on a 
barren island in the middle of the river. They seated 
themselves on large shells of turtles, which they found 
scattered on the beach ; and supped by a beautiful 
moonlight. "What delightful satisfaction did we feel 
at finding om'selves thus assembled! We figured to 
ourselves the situation of a man who had been saved 
alone from shipwreck, wandering on these desert 
shores, meeting at every step with other rivers that 
fall into the Orinoco, and which it is dangerous to 
pass by swimming, on account of the multitudes of 
crocodiles and caribe fishes. We represented to 
ourselves such a man awake to the most tender affec- 
tions of the soul, ignorant of the fate of the compa- 
nions of his misfortune, and thinking more of them 
than of himself. If we love to indulge such melan- 
choly meditations, it is because, when just escaped 
from danger, we seem to feel something like a want 
of strong emotions. The minds of each of us were 
full of what we had just witnessed. There are pe- 
riods in life, when, without being discouraged, the 
future appears more uncertain. It was only three 
days since we had entered the Orinoco; and there yet 
remained three months for us to navigate rivers 
encumbered with rocks, and in smaller boats than 
that in which we had nearly perished.'' 


The iik^ht was intensely hot. Not finding any 
trees to which they could fasten their hammocks, our 
travellers lay upon skins, spread on the ground. They 
were surprised to find that at this place their fii'es did 
not prevent the approach of the jaguars. Those 
animals swam across the arm of the river between the 
island and the main land, and towards morning their 
cries were heard very near. The Indians said that the 
jaguars are always most frequent in those regions dui*- 
ing the period of collecting the turtles' eggs, when like- 
wise they displayed the greatest intrepidity. 

On the following day, they continued their ascent of 
the river, and passed on their right the mouth of the 
great river Arauca, opposite to which, on the other side, 
was the small mission of Uruana. The breadth of the 
Orinoco here was more than three miles, it being the 
season of the high- water ; yet they were at the distance 
of nearly 700 miles above its mouth. Although the 
right bank of the river continued low for some distance 
beyond this point, the mountains on the eastern or left 
bank approached nearer to the stream ; sometimes, the 
high and wooded grounds prevented the winds from fill- 
ing their sails; while at others, the narrow passes be- 
tween the mountains sent out gusts of great violence, 
though of short duration. The number of crocodiles in 
the river was found to increase above the junction with 
the Arauca; they had come according to the Indians 
from the inland savannahs, where they had been buried 
in the dried mud. As soon as the first showers awaken 
them from their lethargy, they crowd in troops, and 
hasten towards the river, there to disperse again. 

"Here in the equinoctial zone, it is the increase of 
humidity that recalls them to life; while in Georgia and 
Florida, in the temperate zone, it is the augmentation 


of heat that rouses these animals from a state of ner- 
vous and muscular debility, during which the active 
powers of respiration are suspended, or singularly 
diminished. The season of great drought, improperly 
called the summer of the torrid zone, corresponds to 
the winter of the temperate zone; and it is a curious 
physiological phenomenon to obsei've the alligators af 
North America plunged into a winter-sleep by excess 
of cold, at the same period when the crocodiles of the 
Llanos begin their siesta, or summer sleep. If it were 
probable that these animals of the same family had 
heretofore inhabited the same northern country, we 
might suppose that in advancing toward the equator, 
they feel the want of repose, after exercising their 
muscles for seven or eight months: and that they 
retain under a new sky the habits which appear to be 
essentially linked with their organization. 

Proceeding onwards they reached a part of the river 
where its bed is narrowed by the mountains of Bara- 
guan, and the stream thus assumes the appearance of 
a strait. This jyassage presented a picturesque scene. 
The granite rocks were perpendicular ; their summits 
did not exceed in height 120 toises, but they derived 
a majestic character from their situation in the midst 
of a small plain, the steepness of their declivities, and 
the barrenness of their sides, which were destitute of 
vegetation. At the middle of the strait, the breadth 
of the river was found to be 1900 yards: its general 
width from Uruana to the junction with the Meta, 
being twice or three times as great, 

'■We looked in vain for plants in the clefts of the 
rocks, which are as steep as walls, and furnish some 
traces of stratitication. We found only an old trunk of 
aubletia, with large pomiform fruit, and a new species 


of the family of the Apocynese. All the stones were 
covered with an innumerable quantity of iguanas, and 
geckoes with spreading and membranous fingers. 
These lizards, motionless, the head raised, and the 
mouth open, seemed to suck in the open air. The ther- 
mometer placed against the rock, rose to 122-4°. The 
soil appeared undulating, from the effect of mirage, 
without a breath of wind being felt. The sun was near 
the zenith, and its dazzling light, reflected by the sur- 
face of the river, contrasted with the reddish vapours 
that enveloped all the surrounding objects. How vivid 
is the impression produced by the calm of nature, at 
noon, in these burning climates I The beasts of the fo- 
rests retire to the thickets: the birds hide themselves be- 
neath the foliage of the trees, or in the crevices of the 
rocks. Yet, amid this apparent silence, when we lend an 
attentive ear to the most feeble sounds transmitted by 
the air, we hear a dull vibration, a continual murmur, 
a hum of insects, that fill, if we may use the expression, 
all the lower strata of the air. Nothing is better fitted 
to make man feel the extent and power of organic life- 
Myriads of insects creep upon the soil, and flutter round 
the plants parched by the ardour of the sun. A con- 
fused noise issues from every bush, from the decayed 
trunks of trees, from the clefts of the rocks, and from 
the ground undermined by the lizards, millepedes, and 
hlindworms. These are so many voices proclaiming to 
us, that all nature breathes; and that, under a thousand 
different forms, life is diffused throughout the cracked 
and dusty soil, as well as in the bosom of the waters, 
and in the air that circulates around us. 

"The sensations which I here recalled to my mind, 
are not unknown to those, who, without having ad- 
vanced to the equator, have visited Italy, Spain, or 


Egypt. That contrast of motion and silence, that 
aspect of nature at once calm and animated, strikes 
the imagination of the traveller, when he enters the 
basin of the Mediterranean, within the zone of olives, 
dwarf palms, and date trees." 

The travellers passed the night near this spot; and 
"could have wished to find a spring" in the Baraguan; 
the water of the river having a smell of musk, and a 
sweetish taste, exceedingly disagreeable. Both in the 
Apure and in the Orinoco, they found the water some- 
times very fit to drink; while at others it seemed 
loaded with gelatinous matter, "It is the hark" (the 
coriaceous covering,) "of the putrefied cayman, that is 
the cause," said the natives; "the older the cayman, the 
more bitter his bark." There was little doubt that the 
carcases of these large reptiles and the manatees, as well 
as the presence of porpoises, with their mucilaginous 
skin, might contaminate the water of the river, especi- 
ally in the creeks where the stream has little velocity; 
yet it was not always the case that where they found 
the most fetid water, there dead animals were accumu- 
lated. "When," feelingly observes our experienced 
traveller, "in such ardent climates, where we are con- 
stantly tormented by thirst, we are reduced to drink 
the water of a river at the temperature of 80° or 82°, 
it were to be wished at least that water so hot, and so 
loaded with sand, should be free from smell." 

On the morning of the 9th, they reached Pararuma, 
where they saw an encampment of Indians, similar to 
that which they had seen at the Boca de la Tortn^a. 
In this instance, however, the unfortunate natives were 
too late in assembling, to collect the turtles' eggs; the 
little turtles had been several days out of the shell 
before the camp was formed. The delay had proved 


profitable to the crocodiles, and the garses (a species of 
large white heron) ; both those animals, having a par- 
tiality for the flesh of young turtles, had devoured an 
immense number, when they came out of the earth, 
after the evening twilight, to visit the river. The 
zamuro, or carrion- vultures, are said to be too indolent 
to hunt after sunset; but, hovering around the shores 
in the day-time, they alight in the midst of an Indian 
encampment to steal food. Oftentimes they can find 
no other means of satisfying their voracity, than by at- 
tacking young crocodiles, seven or eight inches long, 
either on the land, or in water of httle depth ; and it is 
curious then to see with what address these httle ani- 
mals will defend themselves for some time against their 
ravenous assailants. As soon as they perceive the vul- 
tures, they raise themselves on their fore-paws, bend 
their back, and lift up the head, opening then' wide 
jaws. They turn repeatedly, though slowly, towards 
their enemy, to show him their teeth, which even 
when the animal is recently come out of the egg are 
very long and sharp. It frequently happens that, 
while one of the zamuros attracts the whole attention 
of the young crocodile, another pounces, unforeseen, 
upon it, and grasping its neck, bears it off into the 
higher regions of the air. Our travellers had an oppor- 
tunity of observing this manoeuvre during several 
mornings, at the town of Mompex, on the borders of 
the Magdalena, where they had collected in a spacious 
court, surrounded by a wall, more than forty croco- 
diles, which had been hatched fifteen or twenty days. 
At Pararuma they found some white traders, from 
Lingostura, who complained bitterly of the "bad har- 
vest," and the mischief done by the jaguars among the 
turtles' eggs; and also some missionary monks, whose 



ample blue garments, shorn heads, and long beai'ds,- 
gave them the appearance of natives of the East. 
These poor priests had suffered from tertian fevers 
for some months; "pale and emaciated,"' says Hum- 
boldt, "they easily convinced us that the countries we 
were going to visit were not without danger to the 
health of travellers." 

At Pararuma their Indian pilot left them, being un- 
acquainted with the rapids higher uj). They thought 
themselves fortunate in procuring, from one of the 
monks, a fine canoe, at a very moderate price, and in 
securing the company of Father Bernardo Zea, mis- 
sionary of the Atures and Maypures, near the great 
cataracts, who was in hopes of re-establishing his 
health by visiting the more healthy stations of the Rio 
Negro. As the number of natives who assist in pas- 
sing boats over the rapids is very small, our travel- 
lers would have been exposed to the risk of spending 
whole weeks in these humid and imhealthy regions, 
had they not been joined by this monk. 

The assemblage of Indians at Pararuma excited their 
interest: "How difficult," says Humboldt, "to recognise, 
in this infancy of society, — in this collection of dull, 
taciturn, and unimpassioned Indians, — the original 
character of our species! Human nature is not seen 
here arrayed in that gentle simplicity, of which poets, 
in every language, have drawn such enchanting pic- 
tures. The savage of the Orinoco appeared to us as 
hideous as the savage of the Mississippi, described by 
the philosophical traveller who best knew how to paint 
men in the various regions of the globe. One would 
fain persuade himself that these natives of the soil, 
crouched near the fire, or seated on large shells of tur- 
tles, their bodies covered with earth and grease, and 

PAmima the bodt. 163 

tlieir eyes stupidly fixed, for whole hours, on tlie drink 
whieli they are preparing, far from being the original 
type of our species, are a degenerate race, the feeble 
remains of nations which, after being long scattered in 
the forests, have been again immersed in barbarism."' 
Humboldt enters into some interesting details, con- 
cerning the practice which these Indians have of paint- 
ing the naked body. Like some of those in North 
America, they have a passion for red colom's, which they 
obtain from the leaves and seeds of certain plants. 
They use, also, a black colour. They mix these pig- 
ments with turtle-oil or grease of some kind, and apply 
them according to the pattern of the tribe, with such 
modifications as individual taste may suggest. Some 
tribes paint only the head and hair ; others paint the 
whole body. There exists a fashion in painting among 
the Indians, as in dress among civilized nations; and 
our travellers saw some Indians at Pararuma with blue 
jackets and black buttons painted on them. '•' Seen 
at a distance," Humboldt says, '-'these naked men ap- 
pear to be dressed in laced clothes." '"' K painted 
nations," he adds, "had been examined with as much 
attention as clothed nations, it would have been per- 
ceived that the most fertile imagination, and the most 
mutable caprice, have created the fashions of painting 
as weU as those of garments." This personal decora- 
tion of the Indians is a source of great extravagance ; 
and some of the missionaries are said to speculate on 
their state of nudity, by storing up the ddca, and 
other pigments, and selling them at a high price to 
the natives. Humboldt tells us that a man of large 
stature will with difiiculty obtain, by a fortnight's la- 
bom', enough to purchase the ddca to j)aint himself 
red. Thus, as in our temperate climates, we say of a 



poor man, that "he has not enough to clothe himself;" 
the Indians of the Orinoco say " that man is so poor 
that he has not enough to paint half his body." The 
operation of painting is sometimes a very tedious one, 
requiring incredible patience. One specimen of this 
kind of decoration, mentioned by Humboldt, was a 
sort of lattice-work, formed of black lines, crossing on a 
red ground, each little square so formed having a black 
dot in the centre. This "research of ornament" seems 
the more curious, when we consider that if exposed to a 
violent shower, these elaborate and carefully-executed 
paintings are washed out. The black pigment of the 
caruto, however, resists the action of water a long time : 
our travellers, one day, in sport with the Indians, caused 
their faces to be marked with spots and strokes of 
caruto, and when they arrived at Angostura, in the 
midst of Europeans, the marks were still visible. 

The reflecting traveller, who observes the painting 
and tattooing in which the savage takes so great de- 
light and pride, cannot, therefore, but be singularly 
struck with the remains of ancient barbarism, retained 
amid all the usages of civilization, when he remembers 
the cosmetics with which the ladies of Europe still, in 
great measure, labour to adorn and improve the 
appearance of their persons. 

At Pararuma our travellers had an opportunity of 
seeing alive several animals which they had previously 
seen only in the collections of Europe. The mission- 
aries carry on ^a little commerce in the gallitos, or 
rock-manakins, and in several species of monkeys, 
which are in great request on the coast. Two species 
of monkeys particularly attracted their attention, the 
titis and viuditas. The titi has a white face, with a 
little spot of bluish black covering the mouth and the 


point of the nose. No other monkey has so much the 
physiognomy of a child; "there are the same expres- 
sion of innocence, the same playful smile, the same ra- 
pidity in the transition from joy to sorrow. Its large 
eyes are instantly filled with tears, when it is seized 
with fear." It is extremely fond of insects; and Hum- 
boldt mentions a remarkable instance of its sagacity 
in distinguishing them in the plates annexed to one of 
Cuvier's works on Natural History. The engravings 
were not coloured; yet the titi sharply put out its little 
hand, in the hope of catching a grass hopper or a wasp, 
every time that the plate on which those insects were 
represented was shown to it. Engravings of skeletons 
or heads of mammiferous animals were regarded with 
the greatest indifference. "I shall observe, on this 
occasion," says Humboldt, "that I have never heard 
of a picture on which hares or deer were represented, 
of their natural size, and with the greatest perfection, 
having made the least impression, even on hunting- 
dogs of the most improved intelligence. Is there an 
example, well ascertained, of a dog recognizing a 
full-length picture of its master? In all these cases, 
the sight is not assisted by the smell." 

The viudita, or "young widow," as it has been called 
by the missionaries, forms a striking contrast with the 
titi, and other four-handed animals long known in 
Europe. The hair of this little animal is soft, glossy, 
and of a fine black; its face is covered with a square 
mask, of a whitish colour, tinged with blue, and this 
mask contains the eyes, nose, and mouth. "The ears 
have a rim; they are small, very pretty, and almost 
bare. The neck of the widow presents, in front, a 
white band an inch broad, and forming a semicircle. 
The feet, or rather the hinder hands, are black, like 


the rest of the body; but the fore hands are white on 
the outside, and of a glossy black within. It is in these 
marks, or white spots, that the missionaries think they 
recognise the yeil, the neckerchief, and the gloves of a 
widow in mourning. The character of this little mon- 
key, which sits up on its hinder extremities only when 
eating, is very little indicated in its appearance. It 
has a wild and timid air; it often refuses the aliments 
that are offered to it, even v.-hen tormented by a 
ravenous appetite. It has little inclination for the 
society of other monkeys; the sight of the smallest 
saimiri (or titi) puts them to flight. Its eye denotes 
great vivacity. We have seen it remain whole hom*s 
motionless, without sleeping, and attentive to every- 
thing that was passing around. But this wildness and 
timidity are merely apparent. The viudita, alone, and 
left to itself, becomes furious at the sight of a bird. 
It then climbs and runs with astonishing rapidity; 
darts upon its prey like a cat, and kills whatever it 
can seize." Our traveller justly remarks that,= in 
order to study the manners of animals, it is a great 
advantage to observe them in the open air, and not in 
houses, where they lose all their natural vivacity. 

Chapter XIY. 

Departure from Pararuma— Mode of navigating the Orinoco— Military 
conversion of the natives — Inundations of the river — Ancient floods 
—Rapids and cascades — Subterranean sounds — Memnonium — The 
]\Ieta — The Stone of Patience — Sufferings from insects — Arrival at 

The travellers set sail from Pararuma on the 10th of 
April, at ten in the morning. Their canoe was forty 
feet long and three broad; like all Indian boats, it was 
simply the trunk of a tree, hollowed out by the double 


aid of the liatcliet and of fire. To gain something in 
breadth, a sort of lattice-work had been constructed 
on the after part of the boat, with branches of trees 
reaching on each side beyond the gunwale: but the 
roof of leaves — ihetoldo, as it is called — which covered 
this lattice-work, was so low that the inmate was 
obhged to lie down without seeing anything, or to sit 
double, if he preferred being seated. The necessity 
of carrying the canoe across the rapids, leading from 
one river to another, and the fear of giving too much 
hold to the wind, prevented them from having the 
toMo higher. This shed was intended for four persons; 
the legs reached far beyond it, and in a fall of rain 
half the body was wetted. The travellers reposed on 
ox-hides, or tiger-skins, thrown over branches of trees, 
which caused some painful sensations, through so thin 
a covering. Humboldt has depicted the manner of 
navigating on the Orinoco, in such a bark as this, in 
a very interesting manner. " The fore part of the boat," 
he says, " was filled with Indian rowers, furnished with 
paddles three feet long, in the form of spoons. They 
were all naked, seated two by two, and rowed in ca- 
dence with surprising uniformity. Their songs were 
sad and monotonous. The small cages, containing our 
birds and our monkeys, the number of which aug- 
mented as we advanced, were hung, some to the toldo, 
and others to the bow of the boat. This was our tra- 
veiling menagerie. Notwithstanding the frequent losses? 
occasioned by accidents, and above all by the fatal 
effects of exposure to the sun, we had fourteen of 
these little animals alive at our return from the Cas- 
siquiare. ]S"aturalists who wish to collect and bring 
living animals to Europe, might cause boats to be con- 
structed expressly for this purpose at Angostura? or ut 


€rrand Para, the two capitals, situate on the banks of 
the Orinoco and the Amazon; the first third of which 
boats might contain two rows of hutches, sheltered 
from the ardour of the sun. Every night, when we esta- 
blished our watch, the collection of animals and our 
instruments, occupied the centre : around these were 
placed first our hammocks, then the hammocks of the 
Indians, and on the outside were the fires that are 
thought indispensable against the attacks of the jaguar. 
About sunrise the monkeys in our cages answered the 
cries of the monkeys of the forest. These communica- 
tions between animals of the same species, sympathiz- 
ing with one another, though unseen, — one party en- 
joying that liberty which the other regrets, — hare in 
them something melancholy and affecting. 

"In a canoe not three feet wide, and so encumbered, 
there remained no other place for the di'ied plants, 
trunks, a sextant, a dipping-needle, and the meteorolo- 
gical instruments, than the space below the lattice- 
work of branches, on which we were compelled to re- 
main stretched the greater part of the day. To take 
the least object out of a trunk, or to use an instrument, 
it was necessai-y to gain the shore, and disembark. 
To these inconveniences were joined the torment of the 
moschetoes, abounding under this low roof, and the 
heat radiated from the palm-leaves, which had then* 
upper surface continually exposed to the sun's rays. 
We attempted every instant, and always without suc- 
cess, to amend our situation. While one of us laid 
himself under a sheet to ward off the insects, the 
other insisted on having green wood hghted beneath 
the toldOi in order to drive them away by the smoke. The 
painful sensations experienced by the eyes, and the 
increase of a temperature already stifling, rendered 


both of these endeavours alike impracticable. With 
some gaiety of temper, with dispositions of mutual 
benevolence, and with a vivid taste for the majestic 
natm^e of these great valleys or rivers, travellers 
easily support evils which become habitual." 

At a short distance above Pararuma, they passed, 
on the east, a mountain with a bare top, projecting in 
the form of a promontory. Its height was nearly 300 
feet. It had served as a station for the Jesuits, who 
had constructed upon it a small fortress, furnished 
with three batteries of cannon, and constantly oc- 
cupied by a military detachment. The fort had been 
destroyed since the dissolution of the society ; but the 
place was still caUed El Castillo, or the Castle. The 
garrison which the Jesuits used to maintain on this 
rock, was not intended merely to protect the mis- 
sionaries against the incursions of the Caribbees: it 
was employed in that peculiar kind of offensive war- 
fare known in these parts by the name of co7iquesta 
de almas, " conquest of souls." The soldiers, excited 
by the hope of gain, used to make incursions into the 
lands of the independent Indians, killed all those who 
made any resistance, burnt their huts, destroyed the 
plantations, and carried away the old men, women, and 
children, as prisoners. The captives were divided 
among the missions of the Meta, the Rio Negro, and 
the Upper Orinoco, being sent to such a distance as 
prevented their retmn to their native district. This 
violent mode of " conquering souls" was prohibited by 
the Spanish laws ; but the civil governors allowed it, 
and the Jesuit superiors boasted of it, as beneficial to 
religion and the aggrandisement of the missions. 
"The Yoice of the gospel," said one of them, "is heard 
only where the Indians have heard also the voice of 
arms. Mildness is a very slow measure; by chastising 


the natives we facilitate tlicir conversion." Happily, 
however, the same system was not followed by the 
Franciscan, Dominican, and Augustine monks, who 
now govern a vast portion of South America, "and 
who," says Humboldt, "by the mildness or harshness 
of their manners, exert a powerful influence over the 
fate of so many thousands of natives. Military incur- 
sions are almost entirely abolished, and when they do 
take place they are disavowed by the superiors of 
the orders.'*' 

Our travellers passed the night of the 10th, at the 
priest's house, a convento, in the small village of Ca- 
richana ; nearly a fortnight had elapsed since they 
slept under a roof. This mission had been planted at 
the distance of three-quarters of a league from the 
river, to avoid the effects of the inundations. The Ori- 
noco had risen several inches on the 10th, and the 
natives were rather surprised; as the first swellings 
are almost imperceptible, and are usually followed by 
a fall for some days. Our travellers were shown on a 
granite-rock the marks of the great rise of late years, 
and found them to be 42 feet high, or double the or- 
dinary rise of the Nile. The measurement, however, 
was made in a place where the bed of the river is sin- 
gularly hemmed in by rocks ; and it may easily be con- 
ceived, says Humboldt, that the effect and height of 
the increase differ according to the profile of the river; 
but, what is particularly remakable, and "has struck 
the imagination of all who inhabit these countries," is, 
that at Carichana, and other places where the river 
has forced its way through the mountains, you see at 
the height of 100 and sometimes of 130 feet above 
the present increase of the river, black bands and ero- 
sions that indicate the ancient abode of the waters. 

^'Is this river, then," says Humboldt, "the Orinoco, 


which appears to us so imposing and majestic, merely 
the feeble remnant of those immense currents of fresh 
water, which, swelled by Alpine snows, or bymore abun- 
dant rains, everywhere shaded by dense forests, and 
destitute of those beaches that favour evaporation, for- 
merly traversed the regions to the east of the Andes, 
like arms of inland seas? Wliat must then have been 
the state of those low countries of Guiana, which now 
experience the effects of annual inundations ? What a 
prodigious number of crocodiles, lamantines, and boas, 
must have inhabited these vast regions, alternately 
converted into pools of stagnant water and arid plains! 
The more peaceful world in which we live has suc- 
ceeded to a world of tumult. Bones of mastodons and 
real American elephants are found dispersed over the 
platforms of the Andes. The megatherium inhabited 
the plains of Uruguay. By digging the earth more 
deeply in high valleys, which at the present day are un- 
able to nourish palms or tree-ferns, we discover strata of 
coal, containing gigantic remains of monocotyledonous 
plants*. There was therefore a remote period, when 
the tribes of vegetables were differently distributed, 
when the animals were larger, the rivers wider and 
deeper : there stop the movements of natm-e which we 
can consult. "We are ignorant whether the human race, 
which, at the time of the discovery of America, scarcely 
presented a few feeble tribes to the east of the Cordil- 
leras, had yet descended into the plains, or whether the 
ancient tradition of the Great Waters, which we find 
among all the races of the Orinoco, Erevato, and Caura, 
belongs to other climates, whence it had been trans- 
ferred to this part of the new continent." 

* These are different kinds of plants, where one lohe or albuminous 
mass surrounds the embryo. 


Leaving Carichana on the afternoon of the 11th, our 
travellers continued their ascent of the river, which 
"became more and more encumbered with little islands 
or rocks of granite. At one of them, known by the 
name of Piedra del Tigre, or Rock of the Tiger, the 
water is so deep that no bottom can be found with a 
line of twenty-two fathoms, each fathom being six feet. 
Towards evening the weather became cloudy and 
gloomy, with squalls and dead calms alternately ; the 
rain penetrated through the leafy covering of their 
shed, but did them some service in driving away the 
moschetoes which had troubled them all the day. 

The granitic rocks in the river form rapids or 
small cascades, which at first sight alarm the traveller, 
on account of the continual eddies of the water, but 
which are not dangerous for boats, although they 
sometimes occasion inconvenience at the place. Our 
travellers found the impulse of the waters so strong 
that they had great difficulty in gaining the land. 
They were continually driven back to the middle of 
the current"^, when at length two Indians, who were 
excellent swimmers, leaped into the stream, and, 

* The French philosopher, De la Condamine, who was sent out to 
South America, with other academicians, in the year 1735, to measure 
the length of a degree of the earth's surface under the equator, speaks 
of similar rapids and eddies in the Amazon, where its current is impeded 
by rocks. He mentions one of them at the passage called Escurrebragas, 
where he was whirled round for an hour and several minutes in a deep 
creek, under an overhanging rock. " The waters in circulating," says he, 
•' carried me to the middle of the bed of the river, where their meeting 
with the great current formed waves, which would inevitably have sub- 
merged a canoe. The size and solidity of the raft rendered it secure from 
that danger ; but I was always driven back by the violence of the current 
into the creek, from which I was only extricated by the address of four 
Indians. " He tells us likewise of a poor missionary, who was drawn 
into one of these eddies and kept there two days, and would doubtless 
have perished with hunger, if a sudden rise of the river had not again 
sent him into the middle of the stream. 


di-awing the boat by a rope, made it fast to a shelf of 
bare rock, called the Piedra de Carichana Vieja. Upon 
this rock the party passed the night ; the thunder 
continued to roll ; the increase of the river became 
considerable ; and they were several times afraid that 
their frail bark would be forced from the shore by the 
impetuosity of the waves. 

The Piedra de Carichana Vieja is one of those rocks 
at which travellers, who pass along in the Orinoco, 
have heard from time to time at sumise, subterraneous 
sounds resembling those of an organ, and which the 
missionaries call laxas de musica; the young Indian 
pilot said that " it was witchcraft." Our travellers 
themselves never heard these mysterious sounds : 
but from information given to them by witnesses 
worthy of belief, they did not doubt the existence of 
the phenomenon. Humboldt supposes it to depend 
on a certain state of the atmosphere. The shelves of 
rock, it appears, are full of crevices, deep and very 
narrow; they are heated during the day to a high 
temperature, so that they remain throughout the 
night many degrees warmer than the surrounding 
atmosphere. This difference of temperature between 
the subterraneous and the external air, may be con- 
ceived to attain its maximum about sunrise, or at that 
moment which is furthest from the period of greatest 
heat in the preceding day. May not then, asks 
Humboldt, the sounds of an organ, which are heard 
by a person lying on the rock with his ear in contact 
with the stone, be the effect of a current of air issuing 
out through the crevices ? 

" May we not admit," he likewise asks, " that the 
ancient inhabitants of Egypt, in passing incessantly 
up and down the Nile, had made the same obser- 


vation on some rock of the Thebaid ; and that the 
music of the rocks there led to the jugglery of the 
priests in the statue of Memnon ? Perhaps when the 
rosy-fingered Aurora rendered her son, the glorious 
Memnon, vocal, the voice was that of a man hidden 
beneath the pedestal of the statue ; but the obser- 
vation of the natives of the Orinoco, which we relate, 
seems to explain in a natural manner what gave rise 
to the Egyptian belief of a stone that poured forth 
sounds at sunrise." 

Three of the French savans, who went out to 
Egypt with Buonaparte's expedition, heard at sum-ise 
in a monument of granite, placed in the centre of 
the spot on which the greater temple of Karnae 
stands, a noise resembling that of a "string breaking.'"' 
This is precisely the comparison used by the ancient 
writers in speaking of the statue of Memnon; and 
the French philosophers entertained the same opi- 
nion as Humboldt, '-that the passage of rarefied air 
through the fissures of a sonorous stone, might have 
suggested to the Egyptian priests the juggleries of the 

The poetical expression which Humboldt quotes re- 
specting Aurora and her son Memnon, are the actual 
words of an inscription, which Avas found to attest 
that sounds were heard on the 13th of the month 
Pachon, in the 10th year of the reign of Antoninus ; 
which agrees with the year a.d. 148. 

The toucan and rattlesnake seem to occupy the 
countries from Mexico to the southern parts of Brazil. 
The toucan is an omnivorous bird, feeding both upon 
animal and vegetable matters. But their enormous 
bills are very light, and, being vascular within, favour 
the organs of smell. By this power they discover the 

Kattlesnake (Crotalj.s LorridusV 


nests and eggs of other birds, which they are continu- 
ally plundering. The red-billed toucan is one of the 
largest species, having the body black and the throat 
very white. 

On the morning of the 12th our travellers set off at 
fom- o'clock, and experienced the usual difficulty in 
passing the rapids, which lay between them and the 
mouth of the Meta. For six hundred toises* the river 
was full of granitic rocks ; sometimes they passed 
through channels not five feet broad, and sometimes 
theii* canoe was jammed between two blocks of granite. 
" We sought," says Humboldt, " to avoid those pas- 
sages into which the waters rushed with a terrible noise. 
There is no real danger when you are steered by a 
good Indian pilot. When the current is too difficult 
to resist, the rowers leap into the water, and fasten a 
rope to the point of a rock to warp the boat along; 
this manoeuvre is very slow ; and we sometimes availed 
cm-selves of it to climb the rocks, among which we 
were entangled. They are of all dimensions, rounded, 
very black, glossy like lead, and destitute of vegeta- 
tion. It is an extraordinary sight to see the waters 
of one of the largest rivers in the globe in some sort 
disappear. We perceived, even far from the shore, 
those immense blocks of granite rising from the 
ground, and leaning one against another. The inter- 
vening channels in the rapids are more than 25 fathoms 
deep ; and are the more difficult to be observed, as the 
rocks are often narrow at their bases, and form vaults 
suspended over the surface of the rivers. We per- 
ceived no crocodiles in the Raudal de Cariven'^; these 
animals seem to shun the noise of cataracts." 

* The toise is rather more than a. fathom, which is six English feet. 
+ The name of this part of the river, Ratidal signifying a cataraet. 



At 9 o'clock they arrived opposite the mouth of the 
,Meta, which, next to the Guaviarc, is the largest tribu- 
tary of the Orinoco, and is remarkable for the volume 
of its waters, their depth being sometimes 84 feet. The 
confluence of the two rivers presented an impressive 
scene. "Lonely rocks rise on the eastern bank. Blocks 
of granite, piled upon one another, appeared from afar 
like castles in ruins. Vast sandy shores keep the 
skirting of the forest at a distance from the river ; but 
we discover in the horizon solitary palm-trees, backed 
by the sky and crowning the tops of the mountains."' 

Two hours were passed on a large rock in the middle 
of the river, the Stone of Patience, as it is called; be- 
cause the canoes in going up were sometimes detained 
there two days, before they could be extricated from 
the whirlpool formed by it. Humboldt fixed his in- 
struments on it and took altitudes of the sun. At 
night they slept on a sloping shelf of rock at the 
rapids of Tabajee: its crevices sheltered a swarm of 
bats. The cries of a jaguar very near them were heard 
for a long time ; and were answered by the prolonged 
bowlings of their dog. Humboldt waited the appear- 
ance of the stars in vain; "the sky was of a tremen- 
dous blackness ; and the hoarse sound of the cascades of 
the Orinoco contrasted with the noise of the thunder 
that was rolling at a distance towards the forest." 

During the 13th and 14th they continued the ascent 
of the river, and though they were proceeding further 
to the south, and by so doing arrived nearer to the 
equator, they found the heat diminish. The annoyance 
from the moschetoes increased nevertheless ; at the mis- 
sion of San Borja, which they visited on the 13th, they 
suffered most severely, being unable to speak or un- 
cover the face without having the mouth and nose filled 


with those insects. The extreme irritation of the skin 
made them fancy that the air was scorching ; and they 
were prevented from bathing by the fear of the little 
Caribe fish before mentioned. The scenery of the 
Orinoco, as they advanced, assumed a more imposing 
and picturesque aspect. The crocodiles which they 
met with were all of an extraordinary size, being from 
twenty-two to twenty-four feet in length. 

Their sufferings from the insects made them hm-ry 
off, however willing they were to stay. There were 
fewer insects in the strata of air just on the river, than 
near the edge of the forests. They at length arrived 
and spent a night at the little island of Panumana. 

Chapter XV, 

The Cataracts of the Orinoco— Marvellous narratives of the country 
above the cataracts— Panumana — Maladies— Regions round Atures 
and Maypures— Natural rafts of the Orinoco— Natural dikes — In- 
creased intensity of nocturnal sounds— Atures — Propensities of 
animals — Hairy man of the woods — Plague of insects — Table-lands 
of the Andes free from the plague of moschetoes, &c. 

" The river of the Orinoco, in running from south to 
north, is crossed by a chain of granitic mountains. 
Twice impeded in its course, it turbulently breaks on 
the rocks, which form steps and transverse dikes. 
Nothing can be grander than the aspect of this spot. 
Neither the fall of the Tequendama" (near Santa Fe de 
Bogota),"nor the magnificent scenes of the Cordilleras, 
could weaken the impression produced upon my mind 
by the first view of the rapids of Atm-es and of May- 
pures. When you are so stationed that the eye can at 
once take in the long succession of cataracts, the im- 



mense sheet of foam and vapours illumined by the rays 
of the setting sun, it seems as if you saw the whole river 
suspended over its bed. Scenes so astonishing must, 
for ages, have fixed the attention of the New World. 
When Diego de Todaz, Alfonso de Herera, and the in- 
trepid Raleigh, anchored at the mouth of the Orinoco, 
they were informed by the Indians of the great cata- 
racts, which the latter themselves had never visited, 
and Avhich they even confounded with cascades further 
to the east. Whatever obstacle the force of vegetation 
under the torrid zone may be to the intercourse of 
nations, all that relates to the course of great rivers 
acquires a celebrity which extends to vast distances." 
The two celebrated cataracts of the Orinoco are 
formed by the passage of the river across the chain of 
mountains already described under the name of the 
Cordillera of Parime'\ They are called by the natives 
Mapara and Quittuna, the former being the northern 
or lower one. But the missionaries have styled them 
Atures and Maypures, from the names of the first 
tribes which they assembled in the nearest villages. 
On the coast of Caraccas, these two great cataracts 
are simply spoken of as the two raudales, or rapids, as 
if, compared with them, all the other falls of water 
were not deemed Avorthy of attention. The great 
cataracts are distant apart twelve leagues. They di- 
vide the missionary establishments of the province, 
formerly known as Spanish Guiana, into two unequal 
portions — viz., the missions of the Lower Orinoco, or 
such as are situated between the mouth of the river 
and the raudal of Atures, and the missions of the 
Upper Orinoco, or such as are situated between the 
raudal of Maypures and the mountains of Duida. The 
* See page 107. 


course of the Lower Orinoco is estimated at 260 nauti- 
cal leagues; that of the Upper Orinoco at 167 leagues. 
The country lying above the great cataracts is in a 
great measure an unknown land; it is partly flat, 
partly mountainous, and receives the confluents both of 
the Amazon and the Orinoco. " None of the mission- 
aries," says Humboldt, " who have described the Ori- 
noco before me, neither Gumilla, Gili, nor Caulin, had 
passed the raudal of Maypures. We found but three 
Christian establishments above the great cataracts, in 
an extent of more than 100 leagues ; and these three 
establishments contained scarcely six or eight white 
persons, that is to say, persons of European races. We 
cannot be sm'prised that such a desert region should 
have been at all times the classical soil of fable and 
fairy visions. It is there that grave missionaries have 
placed nations with one eye in the forehead, the head 
of a dog, or the mouth below the stomach. It is 
there they have found all that the ancients relate of 
the Garamantes, of the Arimaspes, and of the Hyper- 
boreans. It would be an error to suppose that these 
simple, and often rustic missionaries, had themselves 
invented all these exaggerated fictions ; they derived 
them, in great part, from the recitals of the Indians. 
A fondness for narration prevails in the missions, as it 
does at sea, or in the East, and in every place where 
the mind wants amusement. A missionary, from his 
vocation, is not inclined to scepticism; he imprints on 
his memory what the natives have so often repeated 
to him ; and after his return to Europe, and his 
restoration to the civilized world, he finds a compen- 
sation for his toil in the pleasure of creating astonish- 
ment by a recital of facts which he thinks he has 
coirected, and by an animated description of remote 


things. These tales of travellers and monks increase 
in improbability in proportion as you increase yom* 
distance from the forests of the Orinoco, and approach 
the coasts inhabited by the whites. When at Cumana, 
Nueva Barcelona, and other sea-ports which have 
frequent communication with the missions, you are 
reduced to silence by these few words, ' The fathers 
have seen it, but far above the cataracts.'" 

They passed the night of the loth of April on the 
island of Panumana. During the night, they sought 
the shelter of a deserted hut, the opening of which the 
Indians took care to barricade with planks, to prevent 
the intrusion of the jaguars and tigers, which were 
very numerous in that district. Some time before, 
an Indian, returning to his hut, at the close of the 
rainy season, found a tigress settled in it, with her two 
young. These animals had occupied the dwelling for 
several months, and could with difficulty be dislodged 
by the former master of the house. The jaguars, 
likewise, are fond of retiring to deserted ruins ; so that 
it is more preferable to encamp in the open air, between 
two fires, than to seek shelter in uninhabited huts. 

The village of Atm-es, or San Juan Xepomuceno de 
los Atures, was founded in 1748, by the Jesuit Fran- 
cisco Gonzalez. It is the last of the missions in 
ascending the river, which owe their origin to the 
order of St. Ignatius, all those beyond it having been 
founded by the Franciscans. Humboldt says that the 
Orinoco appears to have flowed where the village now 
stands, and that, doubtless, the flat savannah sur- 
rounding it was once part of the bed of the river. 

Our travellers found this mission in a deplorable 
condition. The number of the Indians had been for 
some time decreasing, and thm amounted to only 4T, 


The causes of the depopulation were yarious; the 
chief of them are the repugnance of the Indians to 
the regulations of the missions, and the epidemic 
fevers which regularly prevail. 

" What," asks Humboldt, " are the causes of those 
fevers that prevail during a great part of the year in the 
villages of Atures and Maypures, around the two great 
cataracts of the Orinoco, and which render the spots so 
much to be dreaded by European travellers? They are 
violent heats, joined with the excessive humidity of the 
air, bad nutriment, and, if we may believe the natives, 
the pestilent exhalations that rise from the bare rocks 
of the raudaks. These fevers of the Orinoco appeared 
to us to resemble altogether those that are felt every 
year between New Barcelona, La Guayra, and Porto 
Cabello, in the vicinity of the sea, and often degenerate 
into adynamic fevers. ' I have had my little fever only 
eight months,' said the good missionary of the Atures, 
who accompanied us to the Rio Negro, speaking of it 
as of an habitual evil, which it was easy to bear. The 
fits were violent, but of short duration. He was some- 
times seized with them when lying along in the boat, 
under a shelter of branches of trees, sometimes when 
exposed to the bm-ning rays of the sun on an open 
beach. These tertian agues are attended with great 
debility of the muscular system; yet we find poor 
ecclesiastics on the Orinoco who support, for several 
years, these calenturitas or tercianas: their effects are 
not so fatal as those which are experienced from fevers 
of much shorter duration in temperate climates." 

The pestilent exhalations here spoken of, as arising 
from the rocks of the cataracts, attracted the attention 
of Humboldt, who remarks that the circumstance is the 
more worthy of attention, on account of its connexion 


with a fact which has been observed in several parts of 
the world, although it has not yet been sufficiently 
exj)lained. The rocks, wherever they are periodically 
submersed, are smooth, and exhibit a black surface, as 
if they were coated with black lead. The crust is very 
thin, and consists mainly of oxide of u'on and manga- 
nese. The same phenomenon has been observed at the 
cataracts of Syene in the Nile, and at those of the river 
Congo, and Humboldt supposes the deposit to be oc- 
casioned by a precipitation of substances chemically 
dissolved in the water, and not by an efflorescence of 
matters contained in the rocks themselves. Our tra- 
vellers were told that persons passing the night on those 
rocks had awakened in the morning with a violent pa- 
roxysm of fever ; and so strong is the conviction of the 
imwholesome influence of such rocks generally, that the 
Jesuits have on several occasions removed their esta- 
blishments to a distance from them. Without enth^ely 
crediting what was said on the subject, our travellers 
took care to avoid the black rocks at night. Hum- 
boldt thinks that the danger of reposing on them may 
arise from the heat which they retain during the night, 
and which he found to be 20° above that of the air. In 
the day-time their temperature exceeded 118°, and they 
emitted a stifling heat. Instead, then, of noxious exha- 
lations from these rocks causing the insalubrity, it may, 
in Humboldt's opinion, be referred to the accumulated 
and radiated heat, the humid atmosphere, and the want 
of a free circulation of air; for, in this neighbourhood, 
he tells us, no breath of wind ever agitates the foliage. 
The characteristic of these equatorial regions is gran- 
dem- and repose, whilst hurricanes and tempests belong 
to islands, to deserts destitute of plants, and to those 
spots where parts of the atmosphere repose upon 


sui*faces from which the radiation of heat is very 

The sceneiy in the vicinity of Atures is very beauti- 
ful, the landscape varying at every step, so that we find 
united in a small space all that is most rude and 
gloomy in nature, with an open country, and lovely pas- 
toral scenery. To the west of the village rises a pyra- 
midal mountain, called the Peak of Uniana, to the 
height of nearly 3200 feet above the level of the plain 
in which it stands. " The savannahs of Atm'es,'"' says 
Humboldt, '•' covered with slender plants and grasses, 
are real meadows, resembling those of Europe; they 
are never inundated by the rivers, and seem to wait 
to be ploughed by the hand of man. Notwithstanding 
their extent, they do not display the monotony of oui- 
plains; they surround groups of rocks and blocks of 
granite piled on one another. On the very borders 
of these plains and this open country you find glens 
scarcely lighted by the rays of the setting sun, and 
gulleys where the humid soil, loaded with arums, heli- 
conias, and lianas, manifests at every step the wild fe- 
cundity of nature. Everywhere, just rising above the 
earth, appear those shelves of granite, completely bare, 
that I described at Carichana, and which I have seen 
nowhere, in the ancient world, of such prodigious 
breadth as in the valley of the Orinoco. Where springs 
gush from the bosom of these rocks, verrucarias, 
psoras, and lichens, are fixed on the decomposed gi-a- 
nite, and have there accumulated mould. Little 
euphorbias, peperomias, and other succulent plants, 
have taken the place of the cryptogamous tribes ; and 
evergreen shrubs, rhexias, and pm-ple-flowered melas- 
tomas, form verdant isles amid desert and rocky 
plains. We are never wearied of repeating, that the 


distribution of these spots, the clusters of small trees 
v/ith coriaceous and shining leaves scattered in the sa- 
vannahs, the limpid rills that dig themselves a channel 
across the rocks, and wind alternately through fertile 
places and over bare shelves of granite, everything 
here recalls to mind what our gardens and plantations 
contain, most picturesque and lovely. We seem to 
recognise the industry of man and the traces of culti- 
vation amid the wildness of the scenery. 

'•' But it is not the disposition of the ground that 
immediately skirts the mission of Atm-es which alone 
gives the landscape so remarkable a physiognomy : the 
lofty mountains, that bound the horizon on every side, 
contribute to it also by their form and the nature of 
their vegetation. These mountains are in general 
700 or 800 feet in height above the surrounding 
plains. Their summits are rounded, as for the most 
part in granitic mountains, and covered with a thick 
forest of the laurel tribe. Clusters of palm-trees, the 
leaves of which, curled like feathers, rise majestically 
at an angle of 70 degrees, are dispersed amid trees 
with horizontal branches; and their bare trunks, like 
columns of 100 or 120 feet high, shoot up into the air, 
and appearing distinctly against the azure vault of the 
sky, ' resemble a forest planted upon another forest.' 
When, as the moon was going down behind the moun- 
tains of Uniana, her reddish disk was hidden behind 
the pinnated foliage of the palm-trees, and again ap- 
peared in the aerial zone that separates the two fo- 
rests, I thought myself transported for a few moments 
to the hermitage of the old man, which M. Bernardin 
de St. Pierre has described as one of the most delicious 
scenes of the Isle of Bourbon, and I felt how much the 
mien of the plants, and their groupings, resembled each 


other in the two worlds. In describing a small spot 
of land in an island of the Indian Ocean, the inimit- 
able author of Paul and Virginia has sketched the 
vast picture of the landscape of the tropics. He knew 
how to paint nature, not because he had studied it 
scientifically, but because he felt it in all its harmo- 
nious analogies of forms, colours, and interior powers." 
From its mouth to the distance of 260 leagues the 
navigation of the Orinoco is not impeded. There are 
shoals and eddies near IMuitaco, in a cove which bears 
I the name of the Mouth of Hell, and there are rapids 
j near Carichana and San Borja; but in all these places 
I the river is never barred entirely across, a channel 
being left by which boats can pass up and down. For 
these 260 leagues travellers are exposed to no other 
danger than that arising from the natural rafts, which 
: are formed of trees uprooted by the river. '• Wo to 
the canoes which, during the night, strike against 
these rafts of wood interwoven with lianas ! Covered 
with aquatic plants, they resemble here, as in the 
Mississippi, floating meadows, the chinanipas (floating 
gardens) of the Mexican lakes. The Indians, to sur- 
I prise their enemies, bring together several canoes, 
fasten them to each other with cords, and cover them 
with grass and branches, to imitate this assemblage of 
i trunks of trees, which the Orinoco sweeps along in its 
thalweg, or middle current. The Caribs are accused 
] of having excelled in the use of this artifice ; at pre- 
i sent the Spanish smugglers in the neighbourhood of 
lAngostm-a have recourse to the same expedient to 
escape the vigilance of the custom-house ofiicers." 

The great cataracts of Atures and Maypm^es form the 
first complete obstruction to the navigation of the Ori- 
noco, The general aspect of these two bars, extending 


from one bank to the other, is similar; each is com- 
posed of innumerable islands, dikes of rocks, and blocks 
of granite, piled on one another, and covered with 
palm-trees, " among which one of the greatest rivers of 
the New World chafes in foam." The northernmost of 
the great cataracts, or that of Atures, is the only one 
bounded on each side by lofty mountains. The river 
is there deeply enclosed by almost inaccessible banks. 
It was only in a very few spots that they could enter 
into the Orinoco to bathe between two cataracts, in 
creeks where the waters have little velocity. Persons 
who have dwelt in the Alps, the Pyrenees, or even the 
Cordilleras, so celebrated for the fractures and vestiges 
of destruction which they display at every step, can 
scarcely figure to themselves, from a simple narration, 
the state of the bed of the river. It is traversed, in 
an extent of more than five miles, by innumerable 
dikes of rocks, that form so many natural dams. The 
space between these rocky dikes is filled with islands 
of diflferent dimensions; some hilly, and 200 or 300 
toises in length; others small, low, and like simple 
shoals. These islands divide the river into a number of 
torrents, that boil up as they break against the rocks ; 
they are all furnished with jaguas and cucuritos, with 
plumy leaves, and seem a mass of palm-trees, rising 
amid the foaming surface of the waters. The Indians, 
to whom the boats are entrusted to be passed empty 
across the raudales^ distinguish every shelf and every 
rock by a particular name. The river is everywhere; 
engulfed in caverns, and in one of these caverns we 
heard the water roll over our heads, and beneath our 
feet at the same time. The Orinoco seems divided into 
a multitude of arms or torrents, each of which seeks 
to force a passage through the rocks. We were struck 


with the little water to be seen in the bed of the river, 
the frequency of subterraneous falls, and the tumult 
of the waters breaking on the rocks in foam. 

When the dikes, or natural dams, are only two or 
three feet high, the Indians venture to descend them in 
boats. In going up the stream, they swim on before, 
and after many vain efforts, succeed in fixing a rope to 
one of the points of rock that crown the dike, and then 
draw the boat up. The boat, during this operation, 
often fills with water ; at other times it is stove against 
the rocks, and the Indians, with their bodies bruised 
and bleeding, extricate themselves with difiiculty from 
the eddies, and swim to the nearest island. When the 
rocky barriers are very high, and entirely bar the river, 
light boats are drawn upon rollers along the shore ; but 
this operation is seldom necessary when the water is 
high. " We cannot," says Humboldt, " speak of the 
cataracts of the Orinoco without recalling to mind the 
mode formerly adopted for descending the cataracts of 
the Nile, of which Seneca has left us a description, pro- 
bably more poetical than accurate. I shall only cite 
the passage which paints with fidelity what may be seen 
every day at Atures, Maypures, and in some pongos of 
the Amazons: — 'Two men embark in a small boat; one 
steers, and the other empties it as it fills with water. 
Long buffeted by the rapids, the whirlwinds, and con- 
trary currents, they pass through the narrowest chan- 
nels, avoid the shoals, and rush down the whole river, 
guiding the course of the boat in its accelerated fall."' 

Humboldt was surprised to find that, with all the 
whirling and foaming and tumultuous movement of the 
waters of the rapids, the height of the fall on the whole 
length of the cataracts, did not exceed thu'ty feet per- 
pendicular. He thinks it probable that a considerable 


portion of the water passes into subterranean cavities. 
The roar of the cataracts is audible at the distance of 
more than three miles ; " when this noise is heard in 
the plain surrounding the mission, at the distance of 
more than a league, you seem to be near a coast skirted 
by reefs and breakers." This noise, which " gives an 
inexpressible charm to these solitudes," is three times as 
loud by night as by day; and what, asks Humboldt.. 
" can be the cause of this increased intensity of sound 
where nothing seems to interrupt the silence of nature?" 
It is an old and very general observation, that sounds, 
and particularly those produced by rushing water, are 
heard with more distinctness and at gTeater distances 
by night than by day: yet the day is hotter than the 
night, and the velocity of sound decreases with the 
decrease of temperature. The intensity of sound 
likewise is diminished by a wind blowing contrary to 
the direction of such sound; yet this cause of diminu- 
tion, if it could operate at all in this calm region, 
t30uld only operate in the night, as no breeze is ever 
felt till after sunset. 

" It may be thought," says Humboldt, " that even in 
places not inhabited by men, the hum of insects, the 
song of birds, the rustling of leaves agitated by the fee- 
blest winds, occasion during the day a confused noise, 
which we perceive the less because it is uniform, and 
constantly strikes the ear. Now this noise, however 
slightly perceptible it may be, may diminish the inten- 
sity of a louder noise; and this diminution may cease, 
if during the calm of the night the song of birds, the 
hum of insects, and the action of the wind upon the 
leaves be interrupted. But this reasoning, even admit- 
ting its justness, can scarcely be applied to the forests of 
the Orinoco, where the air is constantly filled by an innu- 


merable quantity of moschetoes, where the hum of in- 
sects is much louder by night than by day, and where 
the breeze, if ever it be felt, blows only after sunset." 

The opinion entertained by Humboldt himself is 
this, — that the presence of the sun acts upon the pro- 
pagation and intensity of sound by the obstacle pre- 
sented by currents of air of different density, and the 
partial undulations of the atmosphere caused by the 
unequal heating of different parts of the soil; that the 
air, being crossed in every direction by small currents 
of hotter air, the sonorous undulation is divided 
where the density of the medium changes abruptly; 
that partial echoes are thus formed which weaken the 
sound, because one of the streams turns back on itself; 
that little movements may thus "ride over each 
other ;'*' and that, in short, the unequal density of the 
air, under the influence of the sun, impedes and 
weakens sound in the day. In the night, this cause 
being removed, a great difference is perceptible. 

The Indians at Atures consisted of two different 
tribes — the Guahiboes, a du'ty and disgusting people, 
proud of their savage independence, averse to fixed 
habitations and regular labour, and very aptly styled by 
the missionaries Indios Andantes^ or wandering Indians ; 
and the Macoes or Salivas, a mild and tranquil people, 
disposed to agriculture, and capable of being brought 
under discipline without much difl&culty. The idleness 
of the Indians exposes them often to the gi-eatest pri- 
vations; their support is principally derived from the 
cassava. When the Jesuits ruled here, maize, French 
beans, and other European vegetables, were cultivated ; 
and sweet oranges and tamarinds were planted round 
the village. But at the time of Humboldt's visit the 
cultivation of maize was entirely neglected; and a few 


trunks of the orange and tamarind trees choked in the 

forests were all that was left of the industrious activity 
of the first missionaries. Formerly, too. cows and 
horses abounded; hut these had entirely disappeared, 
and the Indians talked of horned cattle as a race that 
was wholly lost. Many of the cattle had been devoured 
by the jaguars, and many had died of wounds inflicted 
by the bats of the cataracts, which are smaller but far 
bolder than those of the Llanos. The jaguars were con- 
sidered less dangerous to cattle than these bats; yet so 
hardy and numerous were the jaguars at Atures, that 
they used to come into the village and devour the pigs 
of the poor Indians. The missionary related a very 
striking instance of familiarity displayed by one of these 
animals, generally so remarkable for their ferocity. 

" Some months," says Humboldt, " before our arrival, 
a jaguar, which was thought to be young, though of a 
large size, had wounded a child in playing with him; I 
use confidently this expression, which may seem strange, 
having on the spot verified facts which are not without 
interest in the history of the manners of animals. Two 
Indian childi-en, a boy and a girl, about eight or nine 
years of age, were seated on the grass near the village 
of Atures, in the middle of a savannah, which we have 
often traversed. At two o'clock in the afternoon, a '. 
jaguar issued from the forest, and approached the child- 
ren, bounding around them; sometimes he hid himself 
in the high grass, sometimes he sprang forward, his 
back bent, his head hung down, in the manner of our 
cats. The little boy, ignorant of his danger, seemed to 
be sensible of it only when the jaguar with one of his 
paws gave him some blows on the head. These blows, 
at first slight, became ruder and ruder; the claws of the 
jaguar wounded the child, and the blood flowed with 


violence, the little girl then took a branch of a tree, 
struck the animal, and it fled from her. The Indians 
ran up at the cries of the children, and saw the 
jaguar, which retired bounding, without making the 
least show of resistance." 

Our travellers saw the little boy, who appeared 
Uvely and intelligent. The jaguar's claws had taken 
away the skin from the lower part of the forehead; 
and there was a second scar at the top of the head.' 
"What," asks our author, "meant this fit of playful- 
I ness in an animal which, although not diflacult to be 
I tamed in our menageries, is always so ferocious and 
j cruel in the state of freedom ? If we choose to admit 
jthat, being sure of its prey, it played with the young 
I Indian as the domestic cat plays with a bird, the wings 
I of which have been clipped, how can we account for 
Ithe forbearance of a large jaguar when pm^sued by a 
little girl? If the jaguar was not pressed by hunger, 
why should it have gone up to the children? There 
are mysteries in the affections and hatred of animals 
jWe have seen lions kill three or four dogs, which 
iwere put into their cage, and instantly caress another 
jwhich had the courage to seize the royal beast by the 
imane. Man is ignorant of the sources of these in- 
stincts. It would seem that weakness inspires more 
interest, the more confiding it is." 

It was among the cataracts that our travellers began 
to hear of "the hairy man of the woods," who has the 
reputation of carrying off women, building huts, and 
eatmg human flesh. Both the missionaries and the na- 
!tives firmly believe in the existence of this anthropomor- 
phous, or "man-shaped" animal; they name it vasitri, 
or the great devil, and hold it in singular dread. One 
of the Jesuits gravely relates the history of a lady who 



lived with a vasitri for several years in great domestic 
harmony; she found him, she said, kind and attentive, 
but was induced to request some hunters to take her 
back to society "because she and her children were 
tired of living so far from the church and the sacra- 
ments." The existence of a wild man of the woods is 
commonly believed in throughout the equatorial regions 
of the old and new world. "This fable," says Hum- 
boldt, "which the missionaries, the European planters, 
and the negroes of Africa, have no doubt embellished 
with many features taken from the description of the 
manners of the ourang-outang, the gibbon, the jocko 
or chimpanzee, and tbe pongo, pursued us for years 
from the northern to the southern hemisphere; and we 
were everywhere blamed, in the most cultivated class 
of society, for being the only persons to doubt the 
existence of the great anthropomorphous monkey of 
America." He thinks it possible that the original of 
the fable may exist in the person of one of those large 
bears, the footsteps of which resemble those of a man, 
and which is believed in every country to attack wo- 
men; and remarking that all articles of popular belief, 
even the most absurd in appearance, rest in real but 
ill-observed facts, he recommends that future travel- 
lers should continue their researches on "the hairy 
man of the woods," and examine whether some un- 
known species of bear, or some very rare monkey, 
may not have given rise to these singular tales. 

The greatest inconvenience which our travellers suf- 
fered at Atures,as indeed throughout the voyage on the 
Orinoco, was the torment of insects. Persons who have 
not navigated the great rivers of Equinoctial America, 
the Orinoco and the Rio Magdalena, for example, can 
hardly conceive, our traveller tells us, how uninterrupt- 



cdly, and at every instant of life, you may be tormented 
by insects flying in the air, and how a multitude of 
those little animals may render vast regions almost un- 
inhabitable. " However accustomed you may be to en- 
dure pain without complaint, however lively an interest 
you may take in the object of your researches, it is 
impossible not to be constantly disturbed by the mos- 
chetocs,zancudoes,jejens, and tempraneroes, that cover 
the face and hands, pierce the clothes with their long 
sucker in the shape of a needle, and getting into the 
mouth and nostrils, set you coughing and sneezing 
whenever you attempt to speak in the open air." The 
plar/a de las moscas, or plague of the flies, afi*ords an in- 
exhaustible subject of conversation in the missions ; 
and the first questions asked on a morning salutation, 
are "How did you find the zancudoes during the night ? 
How are Ave to-day for the moschetoes ?" 

The rage with Avhich they attack men is remarkable ; 
and Humboldt observes, that this voracity, the appetite 
for blood, seems surprising, in little insects which live 
on vegetable juices, and in a country almost uninha- 
bited. " What would those animals eat if we -did not 
pass this way ?" say the Creoles, in going through the 
countries Avhere there are only scaly-backed crocodiles 
and hairy-hided monkeys, both secm-e in their natural 
covering. It is amusing to find the missionaries dis- 
puting on the size and voracity of the moschetoes at 
diflferent parts of the same river, " How I pity your 
situation !" said the missionary of the Raudales to the 
missionary of Cassiquiare, who accompanied our tra- 
vellers, " you are alone like me in this country of tigers 
and monkeys ; with you fish is still more rare, and the 
heat more violent ; but as for my flies, I can boast 
that with one of mine I could beat three of yours." 



Humboldt says, that as far up as the strait of Bara- 
guan the traveller suffers from the sting of insects, but 
can easily bear it; but beyond that strait the scene in- 
stantly changes, and there is no longer any repose for 
him. If he has any poetical remembrance of Dante, 
he will think he has entered the Citta dolente, or city 
of mourning, and fancy that he reads on the granite 
rocks of Baraguau those lines of Dante's in which he 
introduces the genti dolorose, or sorrowful people, 

We have come to the place, of which I have told thee, 
That thou shalt behold the sorrowful people*. 

From the surface of the ground to the height of 
fifteen or twenty feet the air is filled with venomous 
insects, like a condensed vapour. At San Borja, the 
suffering is severe; but at Atures, and above all at 
MayjDures, it may be said to obtain its maximum. "I 
doubt," says Humboldt, "whether there be a countiy 
upon earth where man is exposed to more cruel tor- 
ments in the rainy season . Having passed the fifth 
degree of latitude you are somewhat less stung ; but 
on the Upper Orinoco the stings are more painful, 
because the heat and the absolute want of wind render 
the air more burning and more irritating in its contact 
with the skin." 

" How comfortable must people be in the Moon!" said 
an Indian to a Jesuit missionary: "she looks so beauti- 
ful and so clear, that she must be free from moschetoes." i 
These words, observes Humboldt, which denote the in- 
fancy of a people, are very remarkable. "The satellite 
of the earth is everywhere to the American savage the 
abode of the blessed, the country of abundance. The 
Esquimaux, who counts among his riches a plank, or a 

* See Dante's 3rd Canto I>eir Inferno, v. 16 and 17. 


trunk of a tree thrown by the currents on a coast des- 
titute of vegetation, sees in the moon plains covered 
with forests; the Indian of the forests of the Orinoco 
there beholds open savannahs, where the inhabitants 
are never stung by moschetoes.'"' 

What appeared to our travellers very remarkable, and 
that which is a fact well known to all the missionaries, 
i is that the different species of these noxious insects do 
not associate together, and all sting their unfortunate 
victims at once ; but that at different hom's of the day 
you are stung by different and distinct species. "Every 
time that the scene changes, and, to use the simple ex- 
pression of the missionaries, other insects 'moimt guard,* 
you have a few minutes, often a quarter of an hour, of 
repose. The insects that disappear have not their places 
instantly supplied in equal number by their successors." 
From half-past six in the morning till five in the after- 
noon the air is filled with moschetoes; their sting is very 
painful, and wherever their proboscis pierces the skin, 
it gives rise to a httle reddish brown spot, containing 
extravasated and coagulated blood. An horn- before 
sunset a species of small gnats called tempraneroes, (be- 
cause they appear at so earli/ an hour,) take the place 
of the moschetoes; and then disappear between six and 
seven in the evening. " After a few minutes' repose, 
you feel yourself stung by zancudoes, another species of 
gnat with very long legs. The zancudo, the proboscis 
of which contains a sharp-pointed sucker, causes the 
most acute pain, and a swelling that remains several 
weeks. Its hum resembles that of our gnats in Eui'ope, 
but is louder and more prolonged. The Indians pre- 
tend to distinguish by their song the zancudoes and the 
tempraneroes; the latter of which are real twilight in- 


sects while the zancudoes are most frequently nocturnal 
imects, and disappear towards sunrise." 

These insects attack both natives and Europeans, but 
tbe'r stings produce different effects in the two races. 
" The same venomous liquid deposited in the skin of a 
copper-coloured man of Indian race, and in that of a 
white man newly landed, causes no swelling to the for- t 
mer, while on the latter it produces hard blisters gi*eatly | 
inflamed and painful for several days." The Indians \ 
suffer at the moment of being stung, but less severely ! 
than the whites. " Near Maypures," says Humboldt, . 
" we saw some young Indians seated in a circle and rub- 
bing cruelly each other's backs with the bark of trees i 
dried at the fire. Indian women were occupied, with 
a degree of patience of which the copper-coloured race 
alone are capable, in extirpating, by means of a sharp 
bone, the little mass of coagulated blood which forms 
the centre of every sting, and gives the skin a speckled 
appearance." Whites, born in Equinoctial America, 
and Europeans who have long dwelt in the missions, 
suffer much more than the Indians, but infinitely less 
than Europeans newly arrived. 

'• In proportion as you ascend the table-land of the 
Andes these evils disappear. ]\Ian breathes a fresh and 
pure air. These insects no more disturb the labours 
of the day or the slumbers of the night; documents can 
be collected in archives without our having to complain 
of the voracity of the termites. The moschetoes are 
no longer feared at two hundred toises of height; and 
the termites, still very frequent at three hundred toises 
of elevation, become very rare at Mexico, Santa Fe de 
Bogota, and Quito. In these great capitals, situate 
on the back of the Cordilleras, we find libraries and 


archives that the enlightened zeal of the inhabitants 
augments from day to day. These circumstances, 
which I here only indicate, are combined with others 
that insure a moral preponderance to the alpine region 
over the lower regions of the torrid zone. If we 
admit, agreeably to the ancient traditions collected in 
both the old and new worlds, that, at the time of the 
catastrophe which preceded the renewal of our species, 
man descended from the mountains into the plains, we 
may admit, with still greater confidence, that these 
mountains, the cradle of so many various nations, will 
for ever remain the centre of human civilization in the 
torrid zone. From their fertile and temperate table- 
lands — from these islets scattered in the aerial ocean — 
knowledge and the blessings of social institutions will 
be spread over the vast forests that extend to the foot 
of the Andes, and are inhabited in our days by tribes 
whom the very wealth of nature has retained in indo- 

Chapter XVI. 

Departure from Atures— Cataract of Maypures— Region beyond the 
Great Cataracts— Black Waters— Arrival at San Fernando de Ata- 
bapo— Bats of Aricagua. 

On the 17th of April the travellers quitted Atures, and 
after a march of three hours reached the point, to 
which their boat had been previously conducted through 
the rapids. Continuing their ascent of the river, they 
arrived by nightfall on the 19th at the port of May- 
pures; a storm had overtaken them on the voyage, and 
they were wet to the skin: as the rain ceased, the 
zancudoes re-appeared with that voracity which these 
insects display immediately after a storm. To reach 


the village of Maypui-es required a journey of two 
houi'S. "My fellow-traTellers," says Humboldt, "were 
uncertain whether we ought to take our station in the 
port, or jDroceed on our way on foot, in spite of the 
darkness of the night. Father Zea, who is the missio- 
nary of the two raudales, was determined to reach his 
home. He had caused the building of a large two- 
storied house to be begun by the Indians of the 
mission. ' You will there find,' he said, with simpli- 
city, ' the same conveniences as in the open ak; I have 
not a bench, not a table, but you will not suffer so 
much from the flies, which are less troublesome in the 
mission than on the banks of the river.' We followed 
the counsel of the missionai-y. He caused torches of 
copal to be lighted; these are tubes of three inches in 
diameter filled with copal resin. We walked at fii'st 
on beds of rocks, bare and slippery; and then entered 
a thick grove of palm-trees. We were twice obhged 
to pass a stream on trunks of trees hewn down. The 
torches, being formed on a strange principle, the lig- 
neous wick smTOunding the resin, yielded more smoke 
than light, and were easily extinguished. Om' fellow- 
traveller, Don Nicolas Soto, lost his balance in crossing 
the marsh on a round trunk. We were at first very 
uneasy on his account, not knowing from what height 
he had fallen; but happily the gully was not deep and 
he received no hm-t. The Indian pilot, who expressed 
himself with some facility in Spanish, did not fail to 
talk to us of the snakes and the water-serpents, and the 
tigers, by which we might be attacked. Such conver- 
sations are matters of course, when you travel at night 
with the natives. By intimidating the Em'opean tra- 
veller, the Indians believe that they shaU render them- 
selves more necessary, and gain the confidence of the 


stranger. The rudest inhabitant of the missions under- 
stands the deceptions, which everywhere arise from the 
relations between men of unequal fortune and civiliza- 
tion. Under the absolute and sometimes vexatious 
government of the monks, he seeks to ameliorate his 
condition by those httle artifices, which are the wea- 
pons of childhood and of all physical and intellectual 

The cataract of Maypures, or of Quittuna, as the 
Indians call it, is formed, in the same manner as that 
of Atures, by an archipelago of rocky islands, which 
fill the bed of the river for 3000 toises, and by rocky 
dikes which connect the islands together. One of these 
dikes, named the leap of the Sardina, is nearly nine 
feet high ; and, being of considerable breadth, it forms 
a magnificent cascade. 

"To take in at one view," says Humboldt, "the 
grand character of these stupendous scenes, the spec- 
tator must be stationed on the httle mountain of Ma- 
nimi, a gTanitic ridge that rises from the savannah, 
north of the church of the mission, and is itself only a 
continuation of the steps of which the dike, called the 
raudalito of Manimi, is composed. We often visited 
this mountain ; for we were never weary of this asto- 
nishing spectacle, concealed in one of the most remote 
corners of the earth. Ai-rived at the summit of the 
rock, the eye suddenly takes in a sheet of foam ex- 
tending a whole mile. Enormous masses of stone, 
black as iron, issue from its bosom. Some are paps, 
grouped in pairs, like basaltic hills; others resemble 
towers, strong castles, and ruined buildings. Their 
gloomy tint contrasts with the silvery splendour of 
the foam. Every rock, every islet, is covered with vi- 
gorous trees collected in clusters. At the foot of those 


paps, far as the eye can reach, a thick vapour is sus- 
pended over the river, and through this whitish fog the 
tops of the lofty palm-trees shoot up. The leafy plume 
of this palm-tree has a brilliant lustre, and rises almost 
straight toward the sky. At every hour of the day the 
sheet of foam displays different aspects. Sometimes 
the hilly islands and the palm-trees project their 
broad shadows, sometimes the rays of the setting sun 
are refracted on the humid cloud that shrouds the 
cataract. Coloured arcs are formed, and vanish and 
appear again alternately; light spirits of the air, their 
masses wave above the plain. 

" Such is the character of the landscape discovered 
from the top of the mountain of Manimi, Avhich no 
traveller has yet described. I do not hesitate to repeat 
that neither time, nor the view of the Cordilleras, nor 
any abode in the temperate valleys of Mexico, has 
effaced from my mind the powerful impression of the 
aspect of the cataracts. When I read a description of 
those places in India, which are embellished by running 
waters and a vigorous vegetation, my imagination re- 
traces a sea of foam and palm-trees, the tops of which 
rise above a stratum of vapour. The majestic scenes 
of nature, like the sublime works of poetry and the 
arts, leave remembrances which are continually being- 
awakened, and which, through the whole of life, min- 
gle with all our feelings of what is grand and beautiful. 
The calm of the atmosphere and the tumultuous move- 
ment of the waters produce a contrast peculiar to 
this zone. Here no breath of wind ever agitates the 
fohage; no cloud veils the splendour of the azure vault 
of heaven; a great mass of light is diffused in the air; 
the earth is strewn with plants with glossy leaves; and 
the bed of the river extends far as the eye can reach. 


This appearance sui^prises the trayeller born in the 
north of Europe. The idea of wild scenery, of a torrent 
rushing from rock to rock, is linked in his imagination 
■with that of a climate where the noise of the tempest 
is mingled with the sound of the cataracts; and where, 
on a gloomy and misty day, sweeping clouds seem to 
descend into the valley and rest upon the tops of 
pines. The landscape of the tropics in the low regions 
of the continents has something of greatness and re- 
pose even where one of the elements is struggluig 
with invincible obstacles.'"' 

After a stay of two days and a half at the village 
of Maypm-es, om' travellers again embarked on the 
Orinoco, at two o'clock in the afternoon of the 21st. 
Their canoe had been much damaged in passing the 
cataracts, by the shoals, and through the carelessness 
of the Indians : but still greater dangers, as Humboldt 
observes, awaited it. It was to be dragged overland, 
across an isthmus of 36,000 feet, from the Rio Tua- 
mini to the Rio Negro, to go up by the Cassiquiare 
to the Orinoco, and to repass the two raudales. 

Entering the uninhabited regions beyond the great 
cataracts, they felt as if they had "reached a new world, 
and overstepped the barriers which nature seems to 
have raised between the civilized countries of the coast, 
and the savage and ilnknown interior." On the 22nc5 
they landed at the mouth of the Rio Yichada or Visata, 
one of the affluents of the Orinoco, in order to examine 
the plants of the neighbourhood. The scenery was of a 
very singular character ; the forest was thin, and over 
the plain innumerable rocks of granite rose to the height 
of 15 or 20 feet, in the form of massy prisms, ruined 
pillars, and solitary towers, sometimes shaded by the 
trees of the forests, sometimes having their summits 
crowned with palms. Amid this picturesque scene, M» 


Bonpland was fortunate enough to find several speci- 
mens of the laurus cinnamomoides, a very aromatic 
species of cinnamon, Humboldt observes that the 
barks and aromatic fruits of the new continent 
would have become important objects of trade if Eu- 
rope, at the period of the discovery of America, had 
not already been accustomed to the spices and aroma- 
tics of India. The cinnamon of the Orinoco is, however, 
less aromatic than that of Ceylon, and would still be 
so, even if dried and prepared by similar processes. 

The Rio Vichada appeared to Humboldt to be, next 
to the Meta and the Guaviare, the most consider- 
able river joining the Orinoco from the west ; but 
for the previous forty years no European had naviga- 
ted it, and our traveller could learn nothing of its 
sources. The vast space of ground lying to the west 
of the Orinoco, between the Meta and the Guaviare, 
is altogether unknown for the distance of a league 
from the banks; but it is believed to be inhabited 
by wild Indians of the Chiricoa tribe, "who fortunately 
build no boats." Formerly, when the Caribees, and 
their enemies the Cabres, traversed these regions with 
their little fleets of rafts and canoes, it would have 
been impnident to have passed the night near the 
mouth of a river running from the west : but the set- 
tlement of the Europeans has caused the independent 
Indians to retire from the banks of the Upper Orinoco. 
Such was the solitude of these regions, that, during a 
course of 180 leagues, om' travellers did not meet 
one single boat. 

The night of the 22nd was passed at the mouth of the 
Rio Zama, another considerable river, as little known 
as the Vichada. At this point our travellei*s reached a 
class of rivers which Humboldt considers to merit great 
attention. The Zama and other rivers, such as the 

V ampyre Bat. 

Seads of Bats. 


Matareni, the Atabapo, the Tuamini, the Temi, and the 
Guainia, are called aguas negras, literally "black 
waters ;" their waters, when seen in a large body, ap- 
pearing brown, like coffee, or of a greenish black. Ne- 
vertheless, these waters ai-e beautifully clear, and very 
agreeable to the taste, and when the least breath of 
wind agitates the surface of the black rivers, they as- 
sume a fine grass-green hue, like that of the lakes of 
Switzerland. These phenomena are so striking, that 
the Indians everywhere distinguish the waters into 
black and white. " The former," says Humboldt, " have 
often served me for an artificial horizon; they reflect 
the images of the stars with admirable clearness. " He 
is unable to account for the colour, but suggests that it 
arises from "a mixture of carbon and hydrogen, in an 
extractive vegetable matter." 

Passing the mouths of several rivers, our travellers 
at length came to the Guaviare, and entering that 
branch of the Orinoco, forsook the main stream, for 
a purpose which we shall presently explain. It was on 
the 24th that they entered the mouth of the Guaviare ; 
they passed, soon afterwards, the point where the Eio 
Atabapo joins that river, and reaching the mission of 
San Fernando de Atabapo soon after midnight, were 
lodged as usual at the missionary's house, the " con- 
vent," as it is called. 

The night of the 23rd was spent near a rock called 
Aricagua, from the clefts of which an innumerable 
quantity of bats issued, and hovered around their ham- 
mocks. The number of these animals, which are very 
injurious to cattle, is particularly augmented in years 
of drought. In the province of Ciara, in Brazil, they 
cause such destruction among the cows, that rich 
farmers are sometimes reduced by them to indigence. 
These are called vampyre-bats. 


Chapter XVII. 

Departure from the Orinoco, and ascent of the river Atabapo — Mission 
of San Balthasar — Rock of the Mother; origin of its name— Con- 
nexion of the Orinoco with the river Amazon — Dapicho — They 
embark on the Pimichin stream. 

"During the night," says Humboldt, "we had left, 
almost unperceived, the waters of the Orinoco, and at 
sunrise found ourselves as if transported to a new coun- 
try, on the banks of a river the name of which we had 
scarcely ever heard pronounced, and which was to con- 
duct us, by the portage of Pimichin, to the Rio Negro, 
on the frontiers of Brazil. 'You will ascend,' said the 
president of the missions, who resides at San Fernando, 
* first the Atabapo, then the Temi, and finally the 
Tuamini. When the force of the current of the black 
ivaters hinders you from advancing, you will be con- 
ducted out of the bed of the river through forests which 
you will find inundated. Two monks only are settled in 
those desert places between the Orinoco and the Rio 
Negro ; but at Javita you will be furnished with the 
means of having your canoe di-awn overland, in the 
course of four days, to Canno Pimichin. If it be not 
broken to pieces, you will descend the Rio Negro, (from 
north-west to south-east,) as far as the little fort of San 
Carlos, without encountering any obstacle; you will 
ascend the Cassiquiare (from south to north), and then 
retm-n to San Fernando in a month, descending the 
Upper Orinoco from east to west.' Such was the plan 
which was traced for om- navigation, and which we exe- 
cuted not without suffering, but without danger and 
with facility, in the space of thirty-thi-ee days." 
Our travellers began their ascent of the Atabapo from 


San Fernando on the 26th. A remarkable change 
takes place on entering this river; the constitution of 
the atmosphere, the colour of the waters, and the form 
of the trees which cover the shore, all become different. 
The moschetoes no longer torture the traveller dm^ing 
the day, and the long-legged zancudoes become rare 
during the night, and even altogether disappear beyond 
San Fernando. The waters of the Orinoco are turbid, 
and loaded with earthy matter, and in the creeks, from 
the accumulation of dead crocodiles and other putres- 
cent substances, diffuse an unpleasant smell. Om- tra- 
vellers were sometimes obliged to strain the water 
through a linen cloth before they could drink of it. 
On the other hand, the waters of the Atabapo are pure, 
destitute of smell, and agreeable to the taste: their 
colour is brownish by refiected light, and a pale yellow 
by transmitted light. The people call them " light," in 
contradistinction to the heavy and turbid waters of the 
Orinoco ; and they are cooler, likewise, than the latter. 
Humboldt observes that, after having been compelled, 
during a whole year, to drink water at 80° or 82^, a 
lowering of a few degrees in the temperature pro- 
duces a very agreeable sensation. 

The extreme purity of the waters of the Atabapo, in 
common with the other black rivers, is shown by their 
limpidity, their transparency, and the clearness with 
which they reflect the images and colours of smTOund- 
ing objects. The smallest fish are visible at the depth 
of twenty or thirty feet, and the bottom of the river 
may generally be perceived, exhibiting not a yellowish 
or brownish mud, but a sand of dazzling whiteness. 
"Nothing," says Humboldt, " can be compared to the 
beauty of the banks of the Atabapo. Loaded with 
plants, among which rise the palms, crowned witli 



leafy plumes, the banks arc reflected in the waters, 
and the verdure of the reflected image seems to have 
the same vivid hue as the object itself directly seen; 
the surface of the fluid is so homogeneous, smooth, 
and destitute of that mixture of suspended sand and 
decomposed organic matter which roughens and 
streaks the surface of less limpid rivers." 

" The river Atabapo," he adds, '•' displays everywhere 
a peculiar aspect ; you see nothing of its real banks 
formed by flat lands, eight or ten feet high, and they 
are concealed by a row of palms, and small trees with 
slender trunks, the roots of which are bathed by the 
waters. There are many crocodiles from the point 
where you quit the Orinoco to the mission of San Fer- 
nando, but above the mission there are no longer any; 
we find then some bavas, a great many fresh-water 
dolphins, but no manatees. We also seek in vain on 
those banks the thick-nosed tapir, the araguates, or 
great howling monkeys, the zamuro vulture, and the 
crested pheasant known by the name of guacharaca. 
Enormous water-snakes, in shape resembling the boa, 
are unfortunately very common, and are dangerous to 
the Indians who bathe. We saw them almost from the 
first day swimming by the side of our canoe ; they were 
at the most twelve or fourteen feet long. The jaguars 
of the banks of the Atabapo and the Temi are large 
and well fed; they are said however to be less daring 
than the jaguars of the Orinoco." The reader will 
observe in this last sentence that the latter is a con- 
sequence of the former. 

On the 29th the travellers reached the mission of 
San Balthasar, or as the monks style it. La divinapas- 
tora de Balthasar de Atahopo. The name of Balthasar 
being that of an Indian chief, not of a Christian saint. 


Here they lodged with a Catalan missionary, a lively 
and agreeable man, who had planted a good garden, in 
which the fig, the lemon, the persea, and the mammee, 
Avere growing together. The village was regularly 
built; and the Indian plantations seemed to be better 
cultivated than those on the Orinoco. 

On the following day they continued to ascend the 
Atabapo as far as its junction with the Rio Temi; and 
as they approached the confluence, their attention was 
drawn to a granite mass rising on the western bank. 
It was called the Rock of the Guakiba Woman, or Eock 
of the Mother; and the cause of this singular denomina- 
tion was afterwards explained to them in a melancholy 
narrative, which excited in their minds the most pain- 
ful feelings. " If in these solitary scenes," exclaims 
Humboldt, " man scarcely leaves behind him any trace 
of his existence, it is doubly humiliating for an Euro- 
pean to see perpetuated by the name of a rock, — by 
one of those imperishable monuments of nature, — the 
remembrance of the moral degradation of our species, 
and the contrast between the virtue of a savage and 
the barbarism of civilized man." The tale is connected 
with the system of '• conquering souls'' — the conquesta 
de almas — already spoken of; it is thus related: — 

" In 1797 the missionary of San Fernando had led 
his Indians to the banks of the Rio Guaviare, on one of 
those incm'sions which are prohibited alike by religion 
and the Spanish laws. They found in an Indian hut a 
Guahiba mother with three children, two of whom 
were still infants. They Avere occupied in preparing the 
flour of cassava. Resistance was impossible ; the father 
Avas gone to fish, and the mother tried in vain to flee 
Avith her children. Scarcely had she reached the savan- 
nah, Avhen she was seized by the Indians of the mission 

P 2 


who go to hunt men, like the whites, and the negroes in 
Africa. The mother and her children were bound, and 
dragged to the bank of the river. The monk, seated 
in his boat, waited the issue of the expedition, of 
which he partook not the danger. Had the mother 
made too violent a resistance, the Indians would have 
killed her, for every thing is permitted when they go 
to the conquest of souls (a la conquista espiritual), and 
it is children in particular they seek to capture, in 
order to treat them in the mission as poitos, or slaves 
of the Christians. The prisoners were carried to San 
Fernando, in the hope that the mother would be un- 
able to find her way back to her home by land. Far 
from those children who had accompanied their father 
on the day in which she had been carried off, this un- 
happy woman showed signs of the deepest despair. 
She attempted to take back to her family the children ^ 
who had been snatched away by the missionary, and 
fled with them repeatedly from the village of San Fer- 
nando, but the Indians never failed to seize her anew: 
and the missionary, after having caused her to be mer- 
cilessly beaten, took the cruel resolution of separating 
the mother from the two children, who had been car- 
ried off with her. She was conveyed alone toward the 
missions of the Rio Negro: going up the Atabapo, 
slightly bound, she was seated at the bow of the boat, 
ignorant of the fate that awaited her; but she judged 
by the direction of the sun, that she was removing 
farther and farther from her hut and her native coun- 
try. She succeeded in breaking her bonds, threw her- 
self into the water, and swam to the left bank of the 
Atabapo. The current carried her to a shelf of rock, 
which bears her name to this day. She landed, and 
took shelter in the woods; but the president of the mis- 
sions ordered the Indians to row to the shore, and fol- 


low the traces of the Guahiba. In the evenmg she 
was brought back. Stretched upon the rock (la 
Piedra de la Madre), a cruel punishment was inflicted 
on her with those straps of manatee leather, which 
serve for whips in that country, and with which the 
alcades are always furnished. This unhappy woman, 
her hands tied behind her back with strong stalks of 
mavacure, was then dragged to the mission of Javita. 
She was there thrown into one of the caravanseras 
that are called Casa del Rey. It was the rainy season, 
and the night was profoundly dark. Forests, till then 
believed to be impenetrable, separated the mission of 
Javita from that of San Fernando, which was 2^ 
leagues distant in a straight Mne. No other path is 
known than that of the rivers; :io man ever attempted 
to go by land from one village to another, were they 
only a few leagues apart. But such diflSculties do not 
stop a mother who is separated from her children. 
Her children are at San Fernando de Atabapo; she 
must find them again; she must execute her project of 
delivering them from the hands of Christians, of bring- 
ing them back to their father on the banks of the Gua- 
viare. She was carelessly guarded in the caravansera. 
Her arms being wounded, the Indians had loosened 
her bonds, unknown to the missionary and the alcades. 
She succeeded by the help of her teeth in breaking 
them entirely; disappeared during the night; and at 
the fourth rising sun, was seen at the mission of San 
Fernando, hovering around the hut where her children 
were confined. 'What that woman performed,' added 
the missionary who gave us this sad narrative, 'the 
most robust Indian would not hav^e ventured to under- 
take. She traversed the woods at a season when the 
sky is constantly covered with clouds, and the sun 


during whole days appears but for a few minutes. 
Did the course of the waters direct her way? The 
inundations of the rivers forced her to go far from 
the banks of the main stream, through the midst of the 
woods where the movement of the waters is ahuost im- 
perceptible. How often must she have been stopped 
by the thorny lianas, that form a net- work around the 
trunks they entwine ! How often must she have swum 
across the rivulets that run into the Atabapo! This 
unfortunate woman was asked how she had sustained 
herself during four days. She said, that exhausted 
with fatigue, she could find no other nourishment 
than those great black ants called vackacos, which 
climb the trees in long bands to suspend on them their 
resinous nests.' We pressed the missionary to tell us 
whether the Guahiba had peacefully enjoyed the hap- 
piness of remaining with her children, and if any re- 
pentance had followed this excess of cruelty. He would 
not satisfy our curiosity; but at our return from the 
Rio Kegro we learnt that the Indian mother was not 
allowed time to cure her wounds, but was again sepa- 
rated from her children, and sent to one of the missions 
of the Upper Orinoco. There she died, refusing all 
nourishment, as the savages do in great calamities." 

Quitting the stream of the Atabapo our travellers 
entered the Rio Temi, and ascended it as far as its 
junction with the Tuamini ; then in like manner they 
quitted the Temi, and ascended the Tuamini as far as 
the mission of San Antonio de Javita, which they 
reached on the 1st of May. Here their voyage upon 
the Orinoco and its tributaries was for a time inter- 
rupted ; and in this part of our narrative, it will be 
proper for us briefly to explain their design in quitting 
the main stream of the Orinoco in order to ascend its 


tributaries, as well as their intentions with respect to 
their future course. 

For some time previous to Humboldt's visit, geogra- 
phers had possessed some vague information concern- 
ing a communication between the great river-system 
of the Amazon and that of the Orinoco: the fact of 
the connection was, however, by no means generally 
admitted ; on the contrary, it was denied by many who 
considered that, because these two great rivers flowed 
in different directions, there must be a great mountain- 
barrier between them, from the opposite sides of which 
they respectively descended. It is now, however, well 
ascertained that great rivers flowing in opposite direc- 
tions are often separated by very slight elevations : for 
instance, in North America, the Mississippi, and the 
other rivers flowing southward into the Gulf of Mexico, 
are separated by an inconsiderable ridge from the 
waters flowing into the Arctic Sea and toward the west. 
In like manner, so trifling is the elevation between the 
upper waters of the Orinoco and the Amazon, that 
they actually communicate; and the communication is 
•effected thus : one of the greatest tributaries of the 
Amazon, namely, the Rio Negro, in its progress towards 
that river, throws off" to the northward a branch called 
the Cassiquiare, which flows into the Orinoco. "We 
have said that, previous to Humboldt's visit, it was a 
subject of dispute among geographers whether this 
communication existed; it was one of the main objects 
of his visit to settle the dispute. His obvious course 
would have been to ascend the main stream of the 
Orinoco until he reached the point where the Cassi- 
quiare falls into it; then, tracing the Cassiquiare until 
he came to the Rio Negro, he would have settled the 
controversy, the Rio Negro being satisfactorily known 



to be a branch of the Amazon. But a different course 
presented itself. The river-systems of the Orinoco 
and the Amazon approach very near to each other at 
one point ; that is to say, those tributaries of the Ori- 
noco up which we have abeady conducted our travel- 
lers are separated by only a narrow isthmus, as it were,, 
from the Pimichin, a tributary of the Rio Negro, 
which is itself one of the branches of the Amazon. By 
ascending those tributaries of the Orinoco, and then 
crossing that isthmus to the Pimichin, the Rio Negi*o 
may be reached much sooner than by ascending the 
main stream of the Orinoco as high as the Cassiquiare, 
and then tracing the Cassiquiare to the Rio Negro. 

It was with the view of reaching the Rio Negro by 
the shorter route here pointed out, that om- travellers 
had quitted the main stream of the Orinoco, to ascend 
in succession its tributaries, the Atabapo, the Temi, 
and the Tuamini, until they reached the mission of 
Javita, on the last-named river. From hence it was 
their design to cross the intervening forests and em- 
bark on the Pimichin, which would conduct them into 
the Rio Negro; then to descend the Rio Negro till 
they came to its branch, the Cassiquiare, which would 
Conduct them into the Orinoco ; and finally to descend 
the Orinoco itself on their return to the coast. 

Four days were occupied by the Indians in dragging 
the canoe on rollers across the "portage of Pimichin/^ 
as the little isthmus is called which separates the Tua- 
mini from the Pimichin ; or, in other words, which here 
separates the river-system of the Orinoco from that of 
the Amazon. Dm-ing this time, the travellers remained 
at Javita; but the incessant rains impeded their usual 
researches, preventing Humboldt from making astro- 
nomical observations, and Bonpland from collecting 


and drying specimens. The missionary told them that 
it sometimes rained without intermission for four or 
five months; and Humboldt actually found by mea- 
surement, that there fell in three hom'S on one day, as 
much rain as falls in Paris in three weeks. 

At Javita our travellers obtained some information 
concerning a singular substance, named dapicho or 
sapis, resembling caoutchouc, or Indian rubber. The 
natives make it into balls for their games, cut it into 
cylinders for corks, and mould it into large masses for 
drumsticks. It is dug out of the earth pure from 
between the roots of two trees, one of which fm-nishes 
the common caoutchouc : in its natural state it is white 
corky, and brittle; but on being roasted it becomes 
black, and acquires all the properties of caoutchouc. 
Hmnboldt is inclined to think that it is produced by 
an extravasation of sap from the roots, masses of which 
were found two feet in diameter and four inches thick, 
at the distance of eight feet from the trunks. 

On the 5th of May our travellers departed from 
Javita on foot to follow their canoe; and after passing 
through thick forests and fording numerous streams 
without suffering from the serpents, they reached a 
small farm on the Pimichin towards evening, and 
passed the night in a deserted hut, previously disposses- 
sing and killing two large snakes. On the following 
morning a large viper was found beneath the jaguar- 
skin on which one of them had slept. This species of 
serpent is white on the belly, spotted with brown, and 
black on the back, and grows to the length of four or 
five feet. Humboldt remarks, that, if vipers and 
rattlesnakes had such a disposition to attack any one, 
as is usually supposed, the human race could not have 
resisted them in some parts of America, more partieu- 


larly on the banks of the Orinoco, and on the sides of 
the humid mountains of Choco. 

At sunrise they embarked on the Pimichin, after 
ascertaining that the bottom of their canoe, though 
worn much thinner, had received no crack in the^or- 
tage, or passage over-land. Following its winding and 
narrow channel for four hours and a half, they entered 
the Rio Negro. " The morning," says Humboldt, " was 
cool and beautiful. We had been confined thirty-six 
days in a narrow boat, so unstable, that it would have 
been overset by any person rising imprudently from 
his seat, without warning the rowers to preseiwe its 
balance by leaning on the opposite side. We had suf- 
fered severely from the sting of insects, but we had 
withstood the insalubrity of the climate; we had passed 
without accident the great number of falls of water, 
and bars, which impede the navigation of the rivers, 
and often render it more dangerous than long voyages 
by sea. After all we had endured, I may be permitted 
perhaps to speak of the satisfaction which we felt on 
having reached the tributaries of the Amazon, — in 
having passed the isthmus which separates two great 
systems of rivers, and in having attained a certainty of 
fulfilling the most important object of our journey, — 
that of determining by astronomical observations the 
com'se of that arm of the Orinoco which joins the Rio 
jSTegro, and whose existence had been alternately proved 
and denied for half a centm-y. In proportion as we 
draw near to an object which we have long had in view, 
its interest seems to augment. The uninhabited banks 
of the Cassiquaire, covered with forests, without me- 
morials of times past, then occupied my imagination, 
as do now the banks of the Euphrates or the Oxus, 
celebrated in the annals of civilized nations. In these 
inland regions of the New Continent we almost accus- 


tomed ourselves to consider man as unessential to the 
order of nature. The earth is overloaded with plants, 
of which nothing impedes the development. An im- 
mense layer of mould evinces the uninterrupted action 
of the organic processes. The crocodiles and boas 
are masters of the river: the jaguar, pecari, dante, and 
monkeys of numerous species, traverse the forest 
without fear and without danger, residing there as in 
an ancient inheritance. This aspect of animated nature, 
in which man is nothing, has something in it strange 
and sad. To this we reconcile ourselves with difficulty 
on the ocean and amid the sands of Africa; though in 
these scenes where nothing recalls to mind our fields, 
our woods, and our streams, we are less astonished at 
the vast solitude through which we pass. Here, in a 
fertile country, adorned with eternal verdure, we seek 
in vain the traces of the power of man; we seem to be 
transported into a world different from that which 
gave us birth. These impressions are so much the 
more powerful in proportion as they are of longer 
duration. A soldier, who had spent his whole life in 
the missions of the Upper Orinoco, slept with us on 
the bank of the river. He was an intelligent man, 
who, during a calm and serene night, pressed me with 
questions on the magnitude of the stars, on the inhab- 
itants of the moon, on a thousand subjects concerning 
which I was as ignorant as himself. Being unable by 
my answers to satisfy his curiosity, he said to me in a 
firm tone : * With respect to men, I believe that there 
are no more above than you would have found if you 
had gone by land from Javita to Cassiquiare. I think 
I see in the stars, as here, a plain covered with grass 
and a forest traversed by a river." These words 
depict the impression produced by the monotonous 
aspect of these solitary regions." 


Chapter XVIII. 

Voyage down the Rio Negro— Christian settlements— Ants— The Cassi- 
quiare— Esmeralda— The Cm-are— They arrive again at San Fernando 
de Atabapo — Cavern of Ataruipe— Earth-eating Indians — They reach 
Angostmra, and set out for Cimiana. 

Descending the Rio Negro, on the 6th and 7th of 
May, our travellers reached the mouth of the Cassi- 
quiare ; but instead of ascending it directly, they passed 
down the Rio Negro nine or ten miles further, in 
order to visit the military station of San Carlos del 
Rio Negro, on the borders of Brazil. After a stay of 
three days they retraced their course to the mouth of 
the Cassiquiare, and proceeded to ascend its stream, 
which was to conduct them once more into the Orinoco. 
They found its banks thickly covered with trees of the 
largest dimensions : the air was stagnant, hot, and hu- 
mid, and the torment of the moschetoes augmented as 
they increased their distance from the black waters of 
the Rio Negro. During the twelve days which they 
passed on the Cassiquiare, they scarcely saw the sun or 
a star, so dense a fog hung over the forests on its borders. 
The state of the Christian settlements on this river 
was deplorable ; on the whole extent of its course, about 
fifty leagues, not 200 inhabitants existed. At Manda- 
vaca they found a missionary, who had spent "twenty 
years of moschetoes in the forests of the Cassiquiare;' 
his legs were so spotted with the stings of insects, that 
the original whiteness of the skin could scarcely be 
perceived. He complained of his dreary solitude, and 
the sad necessity of witnessing the atrocious crimes 
of his flock, without being able to prevent or punish 
them: among other enormities he related that an In-f 



dian alcaydc, or overseer, had a few years before eaten 
one of his wives, after having fattened her for the pur- 
pose. " You cannot imagine," he said, " all the perver- 
sity of this Indian family. You receive men of a new 
tribe into the village; they appear to be good, mild, and 
industrious : but suffer them to take part in an incur- 
sion to bring in the natives, and you can scarcely pre- 
vent them from murdering all they meet, and hiding 
some portion of the dead bodies." 

The soil on the banks of the Cassiquiare is fertile; 
but innumerable swarms of ants and other insects de- 
stroy all that comes in their way. If a missionary wish 
to cultivate salad or any of the culinary plants of Eu- 
rope, he sows the seeds in an old boat filled with mould, 
and suspends it between two trees, or places it on a 
scaffold. The ravages of the ants are counteracted in 
some degree by the voracious appetite of an animal — 
the ant-eater — peculiarly adapted by nature to lick 
them up by thousands, as his ordinary food. These 
animals are pretty generally distributed over all the 
warmer parts of South America. The low and swampy 
grounds, by the sides of streams and pools, or in the 
forests, are his favourite haunts. 

Great Ant-Eater. 


Towards the Orinoco the vegetation was found to be 
exceedingly luxuriant. The river no longer had any 
beach; thick palisades of tufted trees lined the banks, 
so that it appeared like a vast canal nearly 1300 feet 
in width, flowing between two enormous walls clothed 
with lianas and foliage. No openings could be disco- 
vered in these fences; and at night, the Indians had 
to clear with their hatchets a small spot for a resting- 
place. No human creature appeared in these forests. 
" Not five boats," says Humboldt, " pass annually by 
the Cassiquiare; and since we left Maypures, that is, 
for a whole month, we had not met one living soul on 
the rivers which we followed, except in the immediate 
neighbourhood of the missions." 

On the 21st of May our travellers re-entered the 
Orinoco, three leagues below the mission of Esmeralda, 
the most solitary and remote Christian settlement on 
the Upper Orinoco. The site of the little hamlet is 
highly picturesque; the country around is lovely and 
fertile; and behind it rises, in the form of an amphi- 
theatre, a group of granite mountains. The principal 
of them bears the name of Duida; it is 8500 feet high, 
and bare and stony on the summit; perpendicular on 
two sides, and on the others clothed with vast forests, 
it forms a magnificent object. Esmeralda had no 
resident missionary, being visited five or six times a 
year by a monk, living at the distance of fifty leagues. 
Not a cow or a horse was to be seen; the inhabitants 
cultivated only a little cassava and a few plantains, 
and their indolence often reduced them to the neces- 
sity of eating smoked monkey-hams, and pounded 
bones of fish as flour. 

Esmeralda is celebrated, however, on the Orinoco, 
for its manufacture of the curare, a very active poison. 


employed by the Indians in war and in the chase. It 
is prepared from the bark of a liana or creeper, called 
bejuco de mavacure, and is a common infusion concen- 
trated by evaporation and thickened by the addition of 
a glutinous substance. Our travellers saw the process 
performed by an old Indian, who extolled the proper- 
ties of the poison, observing that it was better than 
the black powder used by the white people; that he said, 
makes a noise, — the curare "kills silently." Like some 
other vegetable poisons, however, it is fatal only when 
introduced directly into the blood; it may be tasted 
without danger, and, taken internally, it is considered 
by the natives to be an excellent stomachic. They 
always use it in hunting, the tips of their arrows 
being covered with it; and they maintain that the 
flesh of animals is always best when they have been 
killed by a poisoned arrow. The common mode of 
killing domestic fowls is by scratching the skin with 
one of these weapons; and the missionary who accom- 
panied our travellers, used to have a live fowl and an 
arrow brought to his hammock every morning, not 
choosing to confide to any other person the important 
task of pricking it in the right place. A large bird 
pricked in the thigh died in two or three minutes; to 
kill a pig or a pecari sometimes took ten or twelve. 

On the 23rd of May the travellers left the mission of 
Esmeralda, sufi'ering from languor and weakness, caused 
by bad and scanty food, the torment of insects, and the 
inconveniences of a long voyage in a narrow and damp 
boat. They descended the Orinoco with the cun-ent: 
and as they passed between its deserted banks, they felt 
that "there was something melancholy and painful in a 
river, on which not even a fisherman's canoe was seen." 
On the 27th they reached hSan Fernando de Atr/eapo, 


where a month before they had quitted the main stream 
of the Orinoco, to ascend its tributaries and make their 
way to the Rio Negro. From this point they retraced 
their former course, passed the great cataract of May- 
piires, and on the 31st, before sunset, they landed at the 
Puerto de la Expedicion, on the eastern bank of the 
river, for the pm-pose of visiting the cavern of Ataruipe, 
which is the sepulchre of a whole nation now extinct. 
Humboldt's account of this visit is extremely interest- 
ing. "We climbed," he says, "with difficulty, and not 
without some danger, a steep rock of granite, entirely 
bare. It would have been almost impossible to fix the 
foot on its smooth and sloping surface, if large crystals 
of feldspar, resisting decomposition, did not stand out 
from the rock, and furnish points of support. Scarcely 
had we attained the summit of the mountain, when we 
beheld with astonishment the singular aspect of the 
surrounding country. The foaming bed of the water 
is filled with an archipelago of islands, covered with 
palm-trees. Towards the west, on the left bank of the 
Orinoco, stretch the savannahs of the Meta and the 
Casanare. They resembled a sea of verdure, the 
misty horizon of which was illumined by the rays of 
the setting sun. Its orb, resembling a globe of fire 
suspended over the plain, and the solitai^ Peak of 
Uniana, which appeared more lofty from being wrapped 
in vapom's that softened its outline, all contributed to 
augment the majesty of the scene. Near us, the eye 
looked down into a deep valley, enclosed on every 
side. Birds of prey and goat-suckers winged their 
lonely flight in this inaccessible circus. We found a 
pleasure in following with the eye their fleeting sha- 
dows, as they glided slowly over the flanks of the rock. 
"A narrow ridge led us to a neighbouring mountain, 


the rounded summit of whicli supported immense 
blocks of granite. These masses are more than forty 
or fifty feet in diameter ; and then- form is so per- 
fectly spherical that, appearing to touch the soil only 
hy a small number of points, it might be supposed, 
that, at the least shock of an earthquake, they would 
roll into the abyss. I do not remember to have seen, 
anywhere else, a similar phenomenon amid the decom- 
positions of granitic soils. If the balls rested on a 
rock of a different nature, as it happens in the blocks 
of Jura, we might suppose that they had been rounded 
by the action of water, or thrown out by the force of 
an elastic fluid ; but their position on the summit of a 
hill alike granitic makes it more probable that they 
owe their origin to the progressive decomposition of 
the rock. 

"The most remote part of the valley is covered by 
a thick forest. In this shady and solitary spot, on 
the declivity of a steep mountain, the cavern of 
Ataruipe opens itself; it is less a cavern than a jutting 
rock, in which the waters have scooped a vast hollow, 
when, in the ancient revolutions of our planet, they 
attained that height. We soon reckoned in this tomb 
of a whole extinct tribe, near six hundred skeletons 
well preserved, and so regularly placed that it would 
have been difficult to make an error in their number. 
Every skeleton reposes in a sort of basket made of 
the petioles of the palm-tree. These baskets, which 
the natives call mapires, have the form of a square bag. 
Their size is proportioned to the age of the dead ; 
there are some for infants cut off at the moment of 
their birth. We saw them from ten inches to three 
feet four inches long, the skeletons in them being bent 
together. They are all ranged near each other, and 



are so entire that not a rib, or a phalanx, is wanting. 
The bones have been prepared in three different modes: 
either whitened by the air and the sun; dyed red with 
onotOp a colouring matter extracted from the bixa orel- 
lana ; or, like real mummies, varnished with odori- 
ferous resins, and enveloped in leaves of the heliconia, 
or of the plantain-tree. The Indians related to us 
that the fresh corpse is placed in damp ground, in 
order that the flesh may be consumed by degrees. 
Some months after, it is taken out, and the flesh re- 
maining on the bones is scraped off with sharp stones. 
Several hordes in Guiana, still observe this custom. 
Earthcrn vases, half-baked, are found near the mapires, 
or baskets. They appear to contain the bones of the 
same family. The largest of these vases, or funeral 
urns, are three feet high, and five feet and a half long. 
Their colom* is greenish grey, and their oval form is 
sufficiently pleasing to the eye. The handles are made 
in the shape of crocodiles or serpents, the edge is 
bordered with meanders, labyrinths, and veal grecques, 
(Greek fashions,) in straight lines variously combined. 
Such paintings are found in every zone. The inha- 
bitants of the little mission of Maypures still execute 
them on their commonest pottery ; they decorate the 
bucklers of the Otaheiteans, the fishing implements 
of the Eskimoes, the walls of the Mexican palace of 
Mitla, and the vases of ancient Greece. Evei-y where 
a rhythmic repetition of the same forms flatters the 
eye, as the cadenced repetition of sounds soothes the 
ear. Analogies founded on the internal nature of our 
feelings, on the natural dispositions of our intellect, 
are not calculated to throw light on the filiation and 
the ancient connexions of nations. 

" We opened, to the great concern of our guides, 


several mapires, for the purpose of attentively exa- 
mining the form of the skulls. They all presented 
the characters of the American race, — two or three 
only approached the Caucasian form. We took seve- 
ral skulls, the skeleton of a child six or seven years 
old, and those of two full-grown men, of the nation of 
the Atures. All these bones, some painted red, others 
covered with odoriferous resins, were placed in the 
mapires, or baskets, already described. They formed 
nearly the whole lading of a mule ; and, as we were 
aware of the superstitious aversion which the natives 
show towards dead bodies, after they have given them 
burial, we carefully covered the baskets with new mats. 
Unfortunately for us, the penetration of the Indians, 
and the extreme delicacy of their organs of smell, 
rendered our precautions useless. Wherever we 
stopped — in the Carib mission, in the midst of the 
Llanos, between Angostura and New^ Barcelona, — the 
natives collected round our mules to admire the- 
monkeys which we had brought from the Orinoco.' 
These good people had scarcely touched our baggage, 
when they predicted the approaching death of the beast- 
of burden 'that carried the dead.' In vain we told 
them that they were deceived in their conjectures, 
that the panniers contained bones of crocodiles and 
manatees ; they persisted in repeating that they smelt 
the resin which surrounded the skeletons, and that 
'they were some of their old relatives.' 

" We withdrew in silence, from the cavern of Ata- 
ruipe. It was one of those calm and serene nights- 
which are so common in the torrid zone. The stars 
shone with a mild and planetary light. Their scintilla- 
tion was scarcely perceptible at the horizon, which 
seemed illumined by the great nebulae of the southern 


228 UKUANA. 

liemispliere. An innumerable multitude of insects 
spread a reddish light on the ground, which -svas loaded 
with plants, and glowed with these living and moving 
fires, as if the stars of the firmament had sunk down 
on the savannah. On quitting the cavern, we stopped 
several times to admire the beauty of this singular 
scene. The odoriferous vanilla, and festoons of big- 
nonia, decorated the entrance ; and above, on the 
summit of the hill, the arrowy branches of the palm- 
tree waved murmuring in the air.'' 

Continuing their descent of the river, our travellers 
remained some days at the mission of Carichana, to 
recruit their exhausted strength. In two days more 
they reached Uruana, the situation of which is ex- 
tremely picturesque. The village is placed at the 
foot of a lofty mountain, the granitic columns of 
which rear their heads above the tojDS of the tallest 
trees of the forest. The Orinoco assumes a most 
majestic aspect ; it flows without a winding, like a 
vast canal, upwards of three miles in width. The 
Indians who inhabit this mission are the Otomacs, a 
rude tribe, whose habits display an extraordinary phy- 
siological phenomenon. " They eat earth ; that is to 
say, during several months they every day swallow- 
large quantities of it to appease their hunger, without 
injuring their health." It is during the season of the 
floods, when it becomes very diflicult for them to 
procure fish — their ordinary food, — that they have 
recourse to this as a substitute. They are an ex- 
tremely savage and vindictive race. 

On the 7th of June, our travellers left Uniana, and 
spent the night at the island of Cucuruparu. In the 
neighbourhood of the almost deserted mission of San 
Miguel de la Toi-tuga are found, according to the In- 


dians, otters with a very fine fur, and lizards with two 
feet. On the 8th they passed the mouth of the river 
Apure, which had formerly conducted them into the 
Orinoco, and on the 16th reached Angostura, the capi- 
tal of Spanish Guiana. They were kindly received 
by the governor, and were delighted beyond measure 
when, for the first time, they saw wheaten bread on 
his table. "Coming from an almost desert country," 
says Humboldt, "we were struck with the bustle of 
a town, which has only six thousand inhabitants. 
Humble dwellings appeared to us magnificent, and 
every person with whom we conversed seemed to be 
endowed with superior intelligence.'^ 

At Angostura they were detained nearly a month, in 
consequence of illness ; both of them, but Bonpland 
especially, suffering from violent fevers. On the 10th 
of July they quitted it, and after a fatiguing journey 
across the Llanos, reached the town of New Barcelona 
on the 23rd. Here Humboldt was again attacked by 
fever, and soon after his recovery both of the travel- 
lers set out on their return to Cumana, from which 
they had departed on their grand expedition nine 
months before. 

Two-legged Lizard (Laci-ila Toipes. 


CiiArxER XIX. 

Adventure with the Privateer and the Uawk sloop of war — Captain 
Garnier — They arrive at Cumnna— Optical phenomena— They ar- 
rive at Havannah — at Batabano — They leave Cuba — Arrive at the 
Rio Sinu — Maroon negioes— Carthagena — Turbaco — Air-volcanoes 
— They arrive at Santa Fe de Bogota — Cataract of Tequendama — 
Natural bridges of Icononzo — Pass of Quindiu— Cargueros — Cata- 
racts of the Rio Vinaigre -Ridges of the Cordilleras — They arrive 
at Q,uito — Mountains of Cotopaxi and Chimborazo — They proceed 
towards Lima— Arrive at Loxa— Return to Peru— Sojourn at Lima 
— Set out for Guayaquil — Arrive at Acapulco. 

The trayellers being anxious to reacli Cumana, hired 
an open vessel, to go by sea from New Barcelona to 
that place. This vessel was employed in carrying on 
a contraband trade with the island of Trinidad. For 
this reason, the proprietor thought that they had no- 
thing to fear from the enemy's vessels, which then 
blocked up all the Spanish ports; but they had scarcely 
reached the narrow channel between the continent and 
the little rocky isles, when, to their great suprise, they 
met an armed boat, which, hailing them at a great 
distance off, fired some musket-shots at them. This 
boat belonged to a privateer of Halifax; and, in spite 
of their passjDorts and endeavours to give explanation, 
they were carried on board the privateer as a lawful 
prize. But while Humboldt was engaged with the 
captain in the cabin, in endeavouring to defend his own 
rights and those of the proprietor of the lancha, (open 
boat,) in which they had set out, a noise was heard 
upon deck, and something being whispered to the 
captain, he retired in consternation. The cause of 
this new behaviour in the captain was this: — ^An Eng- 
lish sloop of war, the Hawk, cruising about in those 
parts, had come up, and made signals to the captain 
to bring to, which he not being prompt to obey, a gun 

The Air-Volcanoes of Tur'baco. 



was fired from tlie sloop, and a midshipman sent on 
Tboard, to demand the reason of the captain's negli- 
gence. Humboldt was rery politely treated by the 
midshipman, and invited on board the Hawk, where 
he was received with the utmost kindness by Captain 
John Oarnier, R.N., who told him that he had made 
the voyage to the north-west coast with Vancouver, 
and who appeared to be highly interested in all that 
was related to him, of the great cataracts of Atures 
and Maypures, and the communication of the Orinoco 
with the Amazon. Captain Garnier mentioned seve- 
ral of his of&cers who had been with Lord Macartney 
in China. Humboldt had not, he says, for a year, 
enjoyed the society of so many well-informed persons. 
They had learnt from the English newspapers the ob- 
jects of his enterprise. He was treated with great 
confidence, and the commander gave him up his own 
state-room. They presented him, at parting, with 
the astronomical ephemerides for the years which he 
had not been able to procure in France or Spain. 
"I owe to Captain Garnier," writes Humboldt, with 
the delightful feelings of a grateful mind, "the obser- 
vations I made on the satellites (of Jupiter) beyond 
the equator, and feel it a duty to record here the 
gratitude I feel for his kind offices. Coming from 
the forests of Cassiquiare, and having been confined 
during whole months to the narrow circle of mission- 
ary life, we felt a soothing gratification at meeting, 
for the first time, with men who had sailed round 
the world, and enlarged their ideas by the view of so 
varied a spectacle. I quitted the English vessel with 
impressions which are not yet effaced from my re- 
membrance, and which led me to cherish still more 
the career I had chosen." 


They arrived at length at Cumana, where their 
friends came out to meet them with great joy, as a 
report of their deaths on the banks of the Orinoco 
had been current for several months. While waiting 
here for the arrival of the Sf)anish packets, they em- 
ployed themselves in further studying the plants of 
the country, in examining its geology, and in obser- 
vations for determining certain latitudes and longi- 
tudes. Opportunities occurred during their stay at 
Cumana for sending off some of their most valuable 
collections to France. 

After examining a mine of native alum, they set out 
again, in the middle of November, for New Barcelona, 
from whence they sailed on the 24th at nine o'clock in 
the evening, and next day at noon, reached the island 
of Tortuga, remarkable for its lowness and want of 
vegetation. On the 26th they observed a beautiful 
parhelion, or halo round the sun. Some indications of 
gloomy weather followed, and on the night of the 2nd 
of December a curious optical phenomenon was seen. 
The full moon being very high, there suddenly ap- 
peared on its side, about three quarters of an hour 
before its passage over the meridian, a great arc, which 
had the colours of the rainbow, but was of a gloomy 
aspect; It seemed higher than the moon, had a breadth 
of nearly 2°, and after remaining stationary for several 
minutes, it gradually descended and sank below the 
horizon. The sailors thought that it portended wind. 
On the next night there Avas seen, at the distance of a 
quarter of a mile, a small flame, which ran along on 
the surface of the sea towards the south-west, and 
illuminated the atmosphere. At length, they reached 
Havannah, after a rough passage of twenty-five days. 

After examining the island of Cuba, and finishing the 


observations which they had. proposed to make, they 
set out on the 6th of March in the following year, for 
Batabano, where they arrived on the 8th. This is a 
poor village of Cuba, on the sea-coast, south of Ha- 
vannah. It is surrounded by marshes, and covered with 
rushes and plants of the Iris family, among which 
appear here and there a few stunted palms. The 
marshes are infested with two species of crocodile, 
one of which has an elongated snout, and is very 
ferocious; the back is dark green, the belly white, and. 
the flanks are covered with yellow spots. 

They set sail again on the 9th, and proceeded 
through the Gulf of Batabano, Humboldt employing 
himself in examining the influence which the bottom 
of the sea produces on the temperature of its surface, 
and in determining the positions of some remarkable 
islands. They were two or three days on their pas- 
sage through the Archipelago of the Jardines and 
Jardinillos, small islands and shoals partly covered 
with vegetation. They remained at anchor during 
the night, and by day visited those which were most 
easy of access. The sailors had been searching for 
langoustes, but not finding any, they avenged them- 
selves on the young pelicans, perched on the trees. 
The old birds hovered round, uttering hoarse and 
plaintive cries, and the young defended themselves 
with vigour, although in vain. " On our arrival," says 
Humboldt, "a profound calm prevailed on this little 
spot of earth, but now everything seemed to say, 
* Man has passed here.' " 

On the morning of the 11th they visited the Cayo 
Flamenco, the centre of which is depressed, and only 
fifteen inches above the level of the sea. In the bay 
of Xagua, east of the Jardinillos, they were told that 


fresh water gushed up in several places from the bot- 
tom of the sea, with such force as to prove dangerous 
for small canoes. Vessels sometimes take in fresh 
water from them, and fresh-water fish abound in the 
neighbourhood. The increased temperature in the 
seas, as they sailed on, indicated a gi-eat augmentation 
of depth. 

After being agreeably entertained at the town of 
Trinidad, in Cuba, by the principal inhabitants of the 
place,^ as they returned to the Puerto Guaurabo, 
whence they were to set sail, they were very much 
struck by the prodigious number of phosphorescent 
insects which illuminated the grass and foliage. These 
insects are occasionally used for a lamp, being placed 
in a calabash perforated with holes ; and a young 
woman at Trinidad informed them, that during a long 
passage from the mainland, she always had recourse 
to this light, when she gave her child the breast at 
night, the captain not allowing any other on board 
for fear of pirates. 

The travellers, having embarked from the island of 
Cuba, Avere forced by stormy weather and contrary 
winds to seek shelter in the Rio Sinu, after a passage 
of sixteen days. The sailors, whom they met with at 
Zapote, and who were waiting for fair weather to con- 
vey their articles of commerce to Carthagena, tried to 
frighten the travellers with stories of boas, vipers, and 
jaguars. Here they entered a forest remarkable for 
palm-trees. The spathse of one species, only six feet 
four inches high, they found to contain more than 
200,000 flowers, a single specimen furnishing 600,000 
at the same time. The kernels of the fruit are peeled 
in water, and the layer of oil that rises from them, 
after being purified by boiling, yields the manteca de 


coTozo, whicli is used for lighting churches and houses. 
Here, also, they found the inhabitants collecting palm- 
wine. The Rio Sinu, at the soui'ce of which grows 
the real febrifuge, cincJiona (PeruYJan bark), is a con- 
venient means for provisioning the town of Cartha- 

After haying been again for some time out at sea, 
Humboldt wished the captain to allow one of his 
sailors to land with him, in order that they might pro- 
ceed on foot to the Boca Chica, which is the entrance 
to the port of Carthagena, and was only a few miles 
distant. This was refused by the captain, on account 
of the savage state of the countiy, in which there was 
neither path nor habitation ; and an incident which 
occurred justified his prudence. The travellers were 
going on shore one fine moonlight night to collect 
plants. As they approached the land, they saw a 
young negro issue from the brush-wood, quite naked, 
loaded with chains, and armed with a cutlass. He en- 
gaged them to disembark on a particular part of the 
beach, where the sea did not break in, and offered to 
conduct them to the interior of the island of Baru, if 
they would give him some clothes. His cunning and 
savage air, the often-repeated question, whether they 
were Spaniards, the unintelligible words addressed to 
his companions concealed behind the trees, — all in- 
spired them with mistrust. The blacks were probably 
maroon negroes, slaves escaped from the prison. This 
unfortunate class of persons was much to be dreaded; 
they had the courage of despair, and a desire of ven- 
geance, nourished by the rigom- of the whites. Hum- 
boldt and his companions were without arms; the 
negroes were numerous, and had perhaps engaged 
them to disembark, in order to take possession of the 
canoe. They prudently returned on boai'd their vessel. 


The sight of a naked man, wandering about on an un- 
inhabited beach, without being able to unrivet the 
chains fastened round his neck and the upper part of 
his arm, left on our travellers the most painful impres- 
sions, which could only have been augmented by the 
ferocious regrets of the mariners, who wanted to re- 
turn to the shore and seize the fugitives, to sell them 
secretly at Carthagena. " In climates," says Humboldt, 
'"where slavery exists, the mind is familiarised with 
suffering, and that instinct of pity is stifled, which 
characterises and ennobles our nature." 

During the week of their stay at Carthagena they had 
•an opportunity of witnessing the pageant of the Pascua, 
or Easter-feast. Humboldt relates that nothing could 
rival the oddness of the dresses of the principal jDorson- 
agcs in these processions. Beggars, with crowns of 
thorns on their heads, and crucifixes in theh' hands, 
■asked alms, habited in black robes. Pilate was arrayed 
in a garb of striped silk; and the apostles, seated round 
■a large table covered with sweetmeats, were carried on 
the shoulders of Zambos. At sunset, effigies of Jews in 
French vestments, and formed of straw and other com- 
bustibles, were burnt in the principal streets. 

The salubrity of Carthagena varies with the state of 
the marshes that surround it. The Cienega de Tesca, 
which is upwards of eighteen miles in length, commu- 
nicates with the ocean; and when, in dry years, the salt 
water does not cover the whole plain, the exhalations 
that rise from it during the heat of the day become 
extremely pernicious. Dreading this, the travellers 
retired, on the 6th of April, to the Indian village of 
Tm'baco, which is situated in a beautiful district at the 
entrance of a large forest, nearly twenty miles distant 
from Carthagena. The village is about llol feet above 
the level of the sea. Snakes were here found to be so 


numerous, that they chased the rats even into the 
houses, and pursued the bats on the roofs. 

But the most remarkable attraction of this place was 
a marshy ground situated in the midst of a thicket of 
palms, and which bore the name of Los Volcancitos. 
According to a tradition preserved in the village, the 
ground had formerly been ignited, and a monk had 
extinguished it with holy water, and converted the 
fire-volcano into a water-volcano. It was an open place 
of about 850 feet square, entirely destitute of vegeta- 
tion, but margined with tufts of Bromelia karatas. The 
surface was composed of layers of clay, of a dark gray 
colour, cracked by dcssication into pentagonal and hex- 
agonal prisms. The volcancitos consist of fifteen or 
twenty small truncated cones, rising in the middle of 
this area, to the height of from nineteen to twenty-five 
feet. The most elevated were on the southern side, and 
their circumference at the base was from seventy-eight 
to eighty-five yards. On climbing to the top of these 
mud- volcanoes, they found them to be terminated by an 
aperture from sixteen to thirty inches in diameter, filled 
with water, through which air-bubbles obtained a pas- 
sage, about five explosions taking place in two minutes. 
The force with which the an- rises led to the supposi- 
tion of its being subjected to considerable pressure; 
and a rather loud noise was heard at intervals, which 
preceded the disengagement of it. Each of the bubbles 
contained from twelve to fourteen and a half cubic 
inches of elastic fluid, and their power of expansion was 
often so great that the water was projected beyond the 
crater, or flowed over its brim. Some of the openings 
by which air escaped, were situated in the j)lain, with- 
out being suiTOunded by any prominence of the gi'ound. 
It was observed that when the apertiu'es, which are not 



placed at the summit of the cones, and are enclosed by 
a little mud wall from ten to fifteen inches high, were 
nearly contiguous, the explosions did not take place at 
the same time. It would appear that each crater re- 
ceives the gas by distinct canals, or that these, termi- 
nating in the same reservoir of compressed air, oppose 
greater or less impediments to the passage of the aeri- 
form fluids. The cones have no doubt been raised by 
these fluids, and the dull sound that precedes the dis- 
engagement of them, indicates that the gi'ound is 
hollow. The natives asserted that there had been no 
observable change in the form and number of the cones 
for twenty years, and that the little cavities are filled 
with water even in the driest seasons. The tempera- 
ture of this liquid was not higher than that of the 
atmosphere. A stick could easily be pushed into the 
apertures to the depth of six or seven feet, and the 
dark-coloured clay or mud was exceedingly soft. An 
ignited body was immediately extinguished, on being 
immersed in the gas collected from the bubbles, which 
was found to be pure azote, or nitrogen. 

The stay which our travellers made at Turbaco was 
very agreeable, and added greatly to their collection of 
plants. "Even now," says Humboldt, writing in 1831, 
" after so long a lapse of time, and after returning from 
the banks of the Obi and the confines of Chinese Zun- 
garia, these bamboo-thickets, that wild luxuriance of 
vegetation, those orchidese covering the old trunks of 
the acotea and Indian fig, that majestic view of the 
snowy-mountains, that light mist filling the bottom of 
the valleys at sunrise, those tufts of gigantic trees 
rising like verdant islets from a sea of vapours, inces- 
santly present themselves to my imagination. At 
Turbaco we lived a simple and laborious Ufe. "We were 


young; possessed a similarity of taste and disposition; 
looked forward to the future with hope ; were on the 
eve of a journey which was to lead us to the highest 
summits of the Andes, and bring us to volcanoes in 
action, in a country continually agitated by earth- 
quakes ; and we felt ourselves more happy than at any 
other period of our distant expedition. The years 
which have since passed, not all exempt from griefs and 
pains, have added to the charms of these impressions ; 
and I love to think, that in the midst of his exile in the 
southern hemisphere, in the solitudes of Paraguay*, my 
unfortunate friend M. Bonpland, sometimes remembers 
with delight our botanical excursions at Turbaco, the 
little spring of Torecillo, the first sight of a gustavia 
in flower, or of the cavanillesia, loaded with fruits 
having membranous and transparent edges." 

In the course of two months, the travellers had passed 
up the river from Carthagena to Santa Fe de Bogota, 
the capital of New Grenada. This city stands in a 
beautiful plain, surrounded by lofty mountains; and 
this plain would appear to have been formerly the bed 
of a great lake. It is 8727 feet above the level of the 
sea, and is consequently, higher than the summit of 
St. Bernard, in Switzerland. Here the travellers spent 
several months in exploring the mineralogical and bo- 
tanical treasures of the country, together with the mag- 
nificent cataract of Tequendama. " The traveller who 
views the tremendous scenery of the cataract of Tequen- 
dama, will not be surprised that rude tribes should have 
assigned a miraculous origin to rocks which seem to 
have been cut by the hand of man; to that narrow gulf 
into which falls, headlong, the mass of waters that issue 

* This alludes to the detention of M. Bonpland in Paraguay by the 
dictator, Dr. Francia. 

R 2 


from the valley of Bogota; to those rainbows, reflecting 
the most vivid colours, and of which the forms vary 
every instant; to that column of vapour, rising like a 
thick cloud, and seen at the distance of five leagues 
from the walks around Santa Fe." 

In remote times, according to the tradition which 
is currrent among the people, the inhabitants of Bogota 
were barbarians, living without religion, laws, or arts. 
An old man on a certain occasion suddenly appeared 
among them, of a race unlike that of the natives, 
and having a long bushy beard. He instructed 
them in the arts ; but he brought with him a very ma- 
lignant, although very beautiful woman, who thwarted 
all his benevolent enterprises. By her magical power 
she swelled the current of the Funza, and inun- 
dated the valley, so that most of the inhabitants 
perished, a few only having found refuge in the 
neighbouring mountains. The aged visitor then drova 
his consort from the earth, and she became the moon. 
He next broke the rocks that enclosed the valley on 
the Tequendama side, and by these means drained 
off the waters ; then he introduced the worship of 
the sun, appointed two chiefs, and finally withdrew 
to a valley, where he lived in the exercise of the 
most austere penitence during 2000 years. 

This fall and its scenery present a remarkable 
combination of attractions. Humboldt observes that 
the impression which cataracts leave on the mind of 
an observer, depend on the concurrence of a variety 
of circumstances. The volume of water must be pro- 
portioned to the height of the fall, and the scenery 
around must wear a wild and romantic aspect. The 
Pissevache and the Staubbach, in Switzerland, are 
lofty, the latter, indeed, exceeding 800 feet in height; 

Cataract of Tequendama. 


but their masses of water are inconsiderable. The 
falls of the St. Lawrence at Niagara, and those of the 
Rhine at Schaffhausen, furnish enormous Yolumes of 
water; but even the former does not exceed 160 feet 
in height, while the latter scarcely reaches 60 feet. 
The height of the fall of Tequendama (which forms a 
double bound), is 574 feet! 

Cataracts which are surrounded by hills only, pro- 
duce far less effect than the falls of water which 
rush into the deep and narrow valleys of the Alps, 
of the Pyrenees, and above all, of the Cordilleras of 
the Andes. Independent of the height and mass of 
the column of water, the figure of the landscape, 
and the aspect of the rocks, it is the luxuriant form 
of the trees and herbaceous plants, their distribution 
into groups, or into scattered thickets, the contrast 
of those craggy precipices, and the freshness of ve- 
getation, which stamp a peculiar character on these 
great scenes of nature. The fall of Niagara, placed 
beneath a northern sky, in the region of pines and 
oaks, would be still more beautiful, were its drapery 
composed of heliconias, palms, and arborescent ferns. 
The cataract of Tequendama foi-ms an assemblage of 
everything which is sublimely pictui-esque in fine 

Leaving Sante Fe in September, 1801, the attention 
of the travellers was next arrested by the natural 
bridges of Icononzo, and from their reports of these 
specimens of natural architecture we extract the follow- 
ing details. 

The valley of Icononzo, or Pandi, is one of the most 
remarkable in the Andes, not so much for its dimen- 
sions, as for the singular form of its rocks, which appear 
as if they had been cut by the hand of man. Their 


naked and barren tops present the most picturesque 
contrast with the tufts of trees and shrubs, which cover 
the edges of its curious crevice. Through this valley a 
small torrent, called the Rio de la Sunmia Paz, has 
forced a passage; it descends from the easternmost of 
the three chains into which the Andes are here divided, 
or that chain which separates the great plains of the 
Orinoco from the basin of the river Magdalena, and 
it flows towards the latter. The bed in which this tor- 
rent is confined is almost inaccessible ; and it could not 
have been crossed wishout great difficulty, if Nature 
had not provided two bridges of rock, which are justly 
considered, in the country, as among the objects most 
worthy of the attention of travellers. The name, "Ico- 
nonzo," is that of an Indian village, which stood at the 
southern extremity of the valley, and of which a few 
scattered huts are now the only remains. 

It is at about the middle of the valley that the tor- 
rent rushes through the deep crevice over which the 
bridges extend; and the stream here forms two fine 
water-falls; one on entering the crevice, and the other 
on escaping from it. At the height of nearly 320 feet, 
the uppermost bridge crosses the chasm; its length 
is about 48 feet, and its breadth 40. The rock of 
which the bridge is formed is very compact; it pre- 
serves its natural position, lying in beds nearly hori- 

Sixty feet lower than this bridge, and very near to 
it, is the second, crossing the same chasm. Unlike the 
first, however, it is not one fragment of unbroken and 
undisturbed strata, but it is composed of three enor- 
mous masses of rock, which have accidentally fallen 
down and met in their descent, so as to support each 
other, and form an arch, of which the middle mass is 

¥ '^'1 


QumDiu. 25 i 

the key-stone. In the middle of this second bridge is 
a lai-ge hole about eight yards square, thi'ough which 
the traveller looks down into the abyss beneath, and 
discerns the torrent flowing, as it were, through a dark 
cavern, while his ear is assailed by the ceaseless and 
melancholy noise of the countless troops of nocturnal 
birds, which haunt the chasm. Thousands of these 
birds were seen flying over the surface of the water. 
Humboldt at first mistook them for the gigantic bats, 
so well known in the equatorial regions. It is impos- 
sible to catch them, on account of the depth of the 
crevice; and the only mode of examining them is by 
throwing down rockets to light up the sides of the chasm. 
Their plumage is of an uniform brownish grey : accor- 
ding to the Indians, who call them cacas, they ai'e of 
the size of a common fowl, and have a curved beak, 
with the eye of an owl. Humboldt supposed them to 
belong to the Caprimulgidoet or goat-suckers. 

The next description which arrests our attention, is 
that which refers to the mountain of Quindiu, and 
from Humboldt's narrative of it we furnish the subse- 
quent interesting particulars. 

The pass of Quindiu is considered to be the most 
difficult in the Andes. The mountain presents a thick 
uninhabited forest, to traverse which, in the finest sea- 
son, requires from ten to twelve days : not a hut is to 
be seen, nor are any means of subsistence to be found. 
It is the custom for travellers to take with them a 
month's provision, when they attempt the passage; as 
it often happens, that by the melting of the snow, and 
the sudden swelling of the streams, they are in a manner 
insulated and prevented for a time from descending in 
any direction. The highest point of the pass is almost 
11,500 feet above the level of the sea. The pathway 


is very narrow, varying indeed from only a foot to six- 
teen inches in breadth; in some places it is sunk so 
deep, as to present the appearance of a gallery dug in 
the ground and left open above*. The rock is in gene- 
ral covered with a thick layer of clay, in which the 
torrents have hollowed out gulleys eighteen or twenty 
feet deep ; along these muddy channels the traveller is 
often obliged to grope his way, for more than a mile 
at a time. Occasionally he meets a string of oxen, the 
usual beasts of burden, with difficulty forcing a pas- 
sage: and then he is reduced to the uncomfortable ne- 
cessity of lifting himself up in the best way he can, by 
the aid of roots, fee, and letting them pass under him. 
As these animals are accustomed to tread in the same 
tracks, they form small furrows across the road sepa- 
rated by narrow ridges ; in very rainy seasons these 
ridges are hidden by water, and the unfortunate foot- 
traveller missing them, often steps into the furrows. 

Such then was the route by which Humboldt, and 
his equally adventurous companion Bonpland, crossed 
the mountain of Quindiu on foot in the month of Octo- 
ber, 1801, followed by a train of twelve oxen, carrying 
their collections and instruments. Dm'ing the last 
three or four days while descending the western decli- 
vity, they were exposed to a deluge of rain. *' The 
road," says Humboldt, "passes through a countiy full of 
bogs, and covered with bamboos. Our shoes were so torn 
by the prickles which shoot out from these gigantic gra- 
mina, that we were forced to go barefooted. This cir- 
cumstance, the continual humidity, the length of the 

* The summit'of the pass of the great St. Bernard in the Pennine Alps 
is more than 8200 feet above the level of the sea ; that of the Simplon is 
6578 feet; and that of the Cervin, the loftiest pass in Europe, is 11,096 
feet. The pass of Quindiu is not the highest in the Andes ; nor is itsele- 
vation so great as that of some of the inhabited table-lands. 



passage, the muscular force required to tread in a 
thick and muddy clay, the necessity of fording deep 
torrents of icy water, render this journey extremely 
fatiguing. It is not, however, accompanied by the 
dangers with which the credulity of the people alarms 
travellers. The road is narrow, but the places where 
it skirts precipices are very rare." 

Many persons however, being unable or unwilling 
to encounter the fatigue of this journey on foot, and 
the road being utterly impracticable for mules, re- 
course has been had to a singular mode of conveyance, 
— namely, in chairs tied to men's backs. The occu- 
pation of these porters, or cargueros, as they were 
called, formed a regular trade in the Cordilleras; and 
people there talked of going on a man's back, as na- 
turally as we talk of going on horseback. The tra- 
vellers in their route sometimes met a file of fifty or 
sixty of these men-carriers. 



In the foreground is a band of cargueros coming up 
the mountain; there is represented the mode of fasten- 
ing on the shoulders the chair made of bamboo-wood, 
which is steadied by a head-stall similar to that worn 
by horses and oxen. The roll in the hand of the third 
carguero is the roof, or rather moveable house, which 
is generally used to shelter travellers who cross the 
forests of Quindiu. It is customary on reaching 
Hague, where they prepare for the journey, to pluck 
in the adjoining mountains several hundred leaves of 
the vijao, a plant of the banana family. These leaves 
are about twenty inches in length, and fourteen inches 
in breadth ; they are membranous and silky, and their 
lower surface is covered with a peculiar substance, — 
a sort of varnish, which enables them to resist the 
rain for a long time. In gathering them an incision 
is made in the middle rib, which is the continuation 
of the footstalk; and by this they are suspended when 
the roof is formed. When it is taken down, the 
leaves are spread out and carefully rolled up in a cy- 
lindrical bundle. About a hundred-weight of leaves 
will cover a hut large enough for six or eight persons. 

"When the travellers," says Humboldt, "reach a spot 
in the midst of the forests where the ground is dry, and 
where they propose to pass the night, the cargueros 
lop a few branches from the trees, with which they 
make a tent. In a few minutes, this slight timber- work 
is divided into squares by the stalks of some climbing 
plant, or threads of the agava, placed in parallel lines, 
twelve or fifteen inches from each other. The vijao 
leaves, having been unrolled, are now spread over this 
framework, so as to cover each other in the same man- 
ner as the tiles of a house. These huts, thus hastily 
built, are cool and commodious. If, during his stay, the 

J?" alls of the Vinaigre Hiver. 


traveller feels the rain, he points out the spot where it 
enters, and a single leaf is sufl&cient to obviate the 
inconvenience. We passed several days in the valley of 
Boquia under one of these leafy tents, which remained 
perfectly dry amidst violent and incessant rains." 

"The Andes/' says Humboldt, "bear the same pro- 
portion to the chain of the Alps, as these to the chain 
of the Pyi-enees. Whatever I have beheld, pictui'esque 
or awful, on the borders of the Saverne, in the north 
of Germany, or the Euganean mountains, the central 
chain of Europe, or the rapid declivity of the peak of 
Teneriffe, I have found all assembled in the Cordilleras 
of the New World. It would require ages to observe 
these beauties, and discover the wonders which nature 
has lavished over an extent of 2500 leagues, from the 
granite mountains of the Strait of Magellan to the 
coasts bordering on the east of Asia." 

From these mountains, where the truncated cone of 
Tolima, covered with perennial snow, rises to the height 
of 17,190 feet, amidst forests of styrax, arborescent 
passiflorse, bamboos, and wax-palms, they descended 
into the valley of Cauca towards the west. After rest- 
ing some time at Cathago and Buda, they coasted the 
province of Choco, where platina is found among 
rolled fragments of basalt, greenstone, and fossil wood. 
They then went up by Caloto and the mines of Qui- 
lichao towards Popayan, which is situated at the base 
of the snowy mountains of Purace and Sotara, the 
former of which is volcanic. The Indian hamlet of 
Purace, which was visited by the travellers in Novem- 
ber, 1801, is celebrated for the fine cataracts of the 
Rio Vinaigre, the waters of which are acid. This little 
river is warm towards its source, and after forming 
three falls, one of which is 394 feet in height, and is 



exceedingly picturesque, joins the Rio Cauca, which 
for fourteen miles below the junction is destitute of 
fish. The crater of the volcano, is filled with boiling 
water, which, amid frightful noises, emits vapours of 
sulphuretted hydi'ogen. 

"On advancing from Popayan towards the South, 
we see on the arid elevated plain of the province of 
Los Pastos, the three small chains of the Andes lost in 
one group which stretches far beyond the equator. 
This group, in the kingdom of Quito, presents an ex- 
traordinary appearance from the river of Chota, which 
meanders amid mountains of basaltic rock to the 
Parime of Assuay, on which are seen some remarkable 
remains of Peruvian architecture. The most elevated 
summits are arranged in two lines, which form, as it 
were, a double ridge to the Cordilleras. These colossal 
summits covered with perpetual ice, served for signals 
in the operations of the French academicians, at the 
iime of the measurement of the equinoctial degree. 
Then- symmetrical dispositions in two lines, directed 
from north to south, has led Bouguer to consider them 
as two chains of mountains, separated by a longi- 
tudinal valley: but what this celebrated astronomer 
calls 'the bottom of a valley,' is the summit of the 
Andes itself; it is an elevated plain, the absolute 
height of which is from 8800 to 9000 feet. 

"In these plains the population of this marvellous 
country is concentrated ; towns are there built, which 
contain from thirty to fifty thousand inhabitants. 
"When we have lived for some months on this elevated 
spot, where the barometer keeps at an height 21 '3 
inches, we feel the irresistible influence of an extra- 
ordinary illusion ; we forget by degrees that every- 
thing which surrounds the observer, — those villages 


which proclaim the industry of a mountain-population, 
those pastures covered at the same, time with herds of 
llamas and flocks of European sheep — those orchards 
bounded by hedges of dm-anta and bardanesia — those 
fields cultivated with care and promising the richest 
harvests, — hang as it were suspended in the lofty re- 
gions of the atmosphere; we scarcely recollect that 
the soil is more elevated above the neighbouring 
coasts of the Pacific Ocean than the summit of Ca- 
nigou above the basin of the Mediterranean. 

"By considering the ridge of the Cordilleras as a 
vast plain, curtained by distant mountains, we accus- 
tom ourselves to look upon the inequalities of the crest 
of the Andes as so many isolated summits. Pichincha, 
Oayambo, Cotopaxi, though to more than half their 
height they form but one mass, appear to the eyes of 
the inhabitant of Quito as so many distinct mountains, 
towering in a plain unclothed with forests. This illu- 
sion is so much the more complete, as the breaches in 
the double ridge of the Cordilleras reach down to the 
level of the high inhabited plains. Hence, it is only 
when seen at a distance from the coasts of the Great 
Ocean, or from the savannahs which extend to the foot 
of the eastern declivity, that the Andes present the 
appearance of a single chain." 

In going from the city of Quito to the Parime of 
Assuay, as many as ten or twelve of these summits are 
seen rising on either side of the central elevated plain, 
to a height greater than that of Mont Blanc, in a dis- 
tance of thirty-seven leagues ; they exhibit their forms 
in strong relief against the azure sky, and appear 
" like a bold rocky coast which, rising from the bosom 
of the waters, seems the less distant, inasmuch as no 
object is placed between the shore and the eye of the 


260 QUITO. 

observer. But the enormous elevation of the plain, 
from whicli these summits rise, greatly diminishes the 
impression of their height; so that to the eye of a 
spectator on the plain they do not seem so lofty as 
others which are actually less elevated above the level 
of the sea, but which are viewed from a lower point." 

If these summits of the Andes were "placed on 
islets scattered along the immensity of the ocean," 
they would astonish the spectator much more by 
their stupendous elevations. "Mountains,'' observes 
Humboldt, "which would astonish us by their height 
if they placed near the sea-shore, seem to be but 
hills when they rise from the ridge of the Cordil- 
leras ;" and he mentions a remarkable illustration 
afforded near Quito, by a small conical summit called 
" Javirac," which does not seem higher to the inha- 
bitants of that city than Montmartre, or the heights 
of Meudon, appear to the people of Paris; which, 
however, he found by admeasurement to be upwards 
of 10,300 feet above the level of the sea. 

After a journey of fom- months, performed on 
mules, Humboldt and the other travellers arrived at 
Quito, on the 6th January, 1802. Here they devoted 
nearly six months to researches of various kinds, and 
paticularly to excm-sions to the snowy mountains, 
of which Cotopaxi and Chimborazo are the principal. 
Cotopaxi is the loftiest of those volcanoes of the 
Andes which have produced eruptions at recent 
periods; its height being 18,878 feet. The scoriae 
and rocks ejected by it, and scattered over the neigh- 
bouring valleys, would form a vast mountain of 
themselves. In 1738 its flames rose 2953 feet 
above the crater; and in 1744 its roarings were 
heard as ,far as Honda, on the Magdalena, 690 miles 



off. On the 4th of April, 1768, the quantity of ashes 
thrown out was so great, that in the towns of Ham- 
bato and Tacunga the inhabitants were obliged to use 
lanterns in the streets. The explosion which took 
place in January, 1803, was preceded by the sudden 
melting of the snows which covered the surface; and 
our travellers, at the port of Guayaquil, 179^ miles 
distant, heard day and night the noises proceeding 
from it, like discharges of a battery. 


This celebrated mountain, which has destroyed many 
cities, and sometimes ejects warm water and half-boiled 
fish, is situated south-east of Quito at the distance of 
41 miles, in the midst of the Andes. Its form is the 
most beautiful and regular of all the colossal summits 
of that mighty chain; being a perfect cone, which is 
covered with snow, and shines with dazzling splendour 
at sunset. No rocks project through the icy covering, 
except near the edge of the crater, which is surrounded 
by a small circular wall. In ascending, it is extremely 
difl^ult to reach the lower boundary of the snows. 


the cone being surrounded by deep ravines; and afte? 
a near examination of the summit, Humboldt thinks 
he may assert that it would be altogether impossible 
to reach the brink of the crater. 

Travellers who have approached the summits of 
Mont Blanc and Mont Rosa, are alone capable of 
feeling the character of the calm, majestic, and solemn 
scenery of these mountains of the Andes. The bulk 
of Chimborazo is so enormous, that the part which 
the eye embraces at once, near the limit of the eter- 
nal snows, is about 23,000 feet in breadth. The ex- 
treme rarity of the strata of air across which we see 
the tops of the Andes, contributes greatly to the 
splendour of the snow and the magical effect of its 
reflection. Under the tropics, at a height of about 
17,000 feet, the azure vault of the sky appears of an 
indigo tint. The outlines of the mountain detach 
themselves from the sky in this pure and transparent 
atmosphere, while the inferior strata of the air, repos- 
ing on a plain destitute of vegetation, which reflects 
the radiant heat, are vaporous, and appear to veil 
the middle ground of the landscape. 

The sides of the mountain present that gradation 
of vegetable life, which may be followed on the western 
top of the Andes, from the impenetrable groves of 
palm-trees to the perpetual snows bordered by thin 
layers of lichens. At the height of 11,500 feet, the 
ligneous plants with coriaceous and shining leaves 
nearly disappear. The region of shrubs is separated 
from that of the grasses by alpine plants, by tufts of 
nerteria, valerian, saxifrage, and lobelia, and by small 
cruciferous plants. The grasses form a very broad 
belt, covered at intervals with snow, which remains 
but a few days. This belt, called in the country the 
pajonal, appears at a distance like a gilded yellow 


cai'pet. Its colour forms an agreeable contrast with 
that of the scattered masses of snow; and is owing to 
the stalks and leaves of the grasses bm-nt by the rays 
of the sun in the seasons of great drought. Aboye 
the pajonal lies the region of cryptogamous plants, 
which here and there cover the porphyritic rocks des- 
titute of vegetable earth. Further on, at the limit of 
the perpetual ice, is the termination of organic life. 

On a narrow ledge of Chimborazo, which rises 
amidst the snows on the southern declivity, our travel- 
lers attempted on the 23rd of June to reach the sum- 
mit. The point where they stopped to observe the 
inclination of the magnetic meridian was more eleva- 
ted than any yet attained by man, being 3609 feet 
higher than the summit of Mont Blanc. The ridge to 
which they chmbed, and beyond which they were pre- 
vented from proceeding by a deep chasm in the snow, 
was 19,798 feet above the level of the sea ; but the 
summit was still 1439 feet higher. The blood issued 
from their eyes, lips, and gums, at this elevation. 

The climate of the province of Quito is remarkably 
agreeable, and almost invariable. During the months 
of December, January, February, arid March, it gene- 
rally rains every afternoon from half-past one till five: 
but even at this season the evenings and mornings 
are most beautiful. The temperatiu'e is so mild, that 
vegetation never ceases. At the town of Quito the 
first European corn was sown near the convent of 
St. Francis by Father Jose Rixi, a native of Flanders; 
and the monks still show, as a precious relic, the 
earthen vessel in which the original wheat came 
from Europe. "Why," asks our author, '"have not 
men preserved everywhere the names of those who, 
in place of ravaging the earth, have enriched it with 
plants useful to the human raceV 



After thus spending tlieir time in exploring the 
Andes, and examining everything else worthy of their 
research, the travellers set out in the dh'ection of Lima. 
They first pointed their course to the great river Ama- 
zon, and visited the ruins of Lactacunga, Hambato, and 
Riobamba, in a country, the face of which was entirely 
changed by the frightful earthquakes of 1797, that de- 
stroyed nearly 40,000 of the inhabitants. They then 
with much difficulty passed to Loxa, where, in the 
forests of Gonzanama and Malacates, they examined 
the trees which yield the Peruvian bark. They next 

Peruvian Bark, 


proceeded to inspect the magnificent remains of the 
causeway of the Incas, which traversed the porphyritic 
summits of the Andes from Cuzco to Assuay, at a 
height varying from 7670 to 11,510 feet. At the 
village of Chamaya, on a river of the same name, they 
took ship and descended to the Amazon. With the 
view of completing the map of this country, made by 
the French astronomer. La Condamine, they proceeded 
as far as the cataracts of Rentama; Bonpland employ- 
ing himself, as usual, in examining the subjects of the 
vegetable kingdom, among which he discovered several 
new species of Cinchona*. 

Returning to Peru, they crossed the Cordillera of the 
Andes for the fifth time. They then proceeded to ex- 
amine the mines of Hualgayoc, where large masses of 
native silver are found, at an elevation of 11,613 feet 
above the sea, and which, together with those of Pasco 
and Huantajayo, are the richest in Peru. From Caxa- 
marca, celebrated for its hot springs and the ruins of 
the palace of Atahualpa, they went down to TruxiUo. 
In this neighbourhood are the remains of the ancient 
Peruvian city Mansiche, adorned with pyramids, in one 
of which an immense quantity of gold was discovered 
in the eighteenth century. Descending the western 
Blope of the Andes they beheld for the first time the 
Pacific Ocean, and the long narrow valley bounded by 
its shores, in which rain and thunder are unknown. 
From TruxiUo they followed the arid coast of the 
South Sea, and at length arrived at Lima, where they 
remained several months. 

In Januaiy, 1803, Humboldt and his friends em- 
barked for Guayaquil, in the vicinity of which they 

* This is the generic term for two species of Peruvian trees, which 
yield thefamoua " Jesuits' bark." 

266 MEXICO. 

found a splendid forest of palms, plumerise, tabemse 
montanse, and scitaminese. Here also, as we noticed 
before, they heard the incessant noise of the volcano 
of Cotopaxi, which had experienced a tremendous 
agitation on the 6th of January. From Guayaquvl 
they proceeded by sea to Acapulco in New Spain 

Chapter XX. 

The travellers visit the most remarkable places of Mexico — Cascade 
of Regla — Volcano of Jorullo — They return to Mexico — Great 
Pyramid of Cholula — Perote — Small-pox — Canal of Mexico — Con- 
dition of Agriculture — The Mines — they visit the United States — 
they return to Europe — Fate of Bonpland — of Humboldt — Visit of 
the latter to Asia — Conclusion. 

AcAPULCO, whither our travellers had now arrived, 
is a sea-port town on the western side of Mexico or 
New Spain. It was the original intention of Humboldt 
to remain only a few months in Mexico, and return as 
speedily as possible to Europe ; more especially as his 
instruments, and in particular the chronometers, were 
getting out of order, while he found it impossible to 
procure others. But the attractions of so beautiful and 
diversified a country, the great hospitality of its inhabi- 
tants, and the dread of the yellow fever of Vera Cruz, 
which usually attacks those who descend from the 
mountains between June and October, induced him to 
remain until the middle of winter. 

After making many of their usual observations and 
experiments on the atmospherical phenomena, the 
hourly variations of the barometer, magnetism, and the 
natural productions of the country, they set out in the 
direction of Mexico ; gradually ascending by the burn- 
ing valleys of MescalaandPapagayo, where the thermo- 


meter rose to almost 90° in the shade, and where the 
river is crossed on fruits of Crescentia pinnata, attached 
to each other by ropes of agave. Reaching the ele- 
vated plains of Chilpantzuigo, Tehuilotepec, and Tasco, 
situated at an average height of 5000 feet above the 
level of the sea, they entered a region blessed with a 
temperate climate, and producing oaks, cypresses, pines, 
tree-ferns, and the cultivated corn-plants of Europe, 
After visiting the silver-mines of Tasco, the oldest and 
formerly the richest of Mexico, they went up by Cuer- 
naraca and Guachilaco to the capital. Here they 
spent some time in the agreeable occupation of examin- 
ing numerous curiosities, antiquities, and institutions, 
in making astronomical observations, in studying the 
natural productions of the surrounding country, and in 
enjoying the society of enlightened individuals. The 
longitude of Mexico, which had been misplaced two de- 
grees on the latest maps, was accurately determined 
by a long series of obvservations. 

They next visited the celebrated mines of Moran 
and Real del Monte, and examined the obsidians of 
Oyamel, which fonn layers in pearlstone and porphyry, 
and were used by the ancient Mexicans for the manu- 
facture of knives. The cascade of Regla is situated in 
this neighbourhood. The regularity of its basaltic 
columns is as remarkable as that of the deposits of 
Staffa. Most of them are perpendicular, though some 
are horizontal, and others have various degrees of in- 
clination. They rest upon a bed of clay, beneath which 
basalt again occurs. On this subject Humboldt has 
the following remarkable observations : — 

"In changing our latitude and climate we see a 
change in the aspect of organic nature, in the form of 
animals and of plants, which impresses a peculiar cha,- 


racter on every zone. With the exception of some 
aquatic and cryptogamous vegetables, the soil in every 
region is covered with different plants. It is not so 
with inanimate nature, with that aggregation of earthy 
substances, which covers the surface of our planet ; the 
same decomposed granite, on which, amid the frosts of 
Lapland, the vacciniums, the andromedas, and the moss 
that nourishes the rein-deer, vegetate, is found again in 
those bowers of fern-trees, of palms, and of heliconia, 
the shining foliage of which unfolds itself under the in- 
fluence of the equatorial heats. When at the end of a 
long voyage, after passing from one hemisphere to ano- 
ther, the inhabitant of the north lands on some distant 
shore, he is surprised to find, amid a crowd of unknown 
productions, those strata of slate, micaceous schist, and 
trappean porphyry, that form the arid coasts of the old 
continent, bathed by the icy ocean. Under every cli- 
mate the rocky crust of the globe presents the same 
appearance to the traveller; he everywhere finds, and 
not without emotion in the midst of a new world, the 
rocks of his native country." 

Returning from this excursion in July 1803, they 
next made another to the northern part of the kingdom, 
in the course of which they inspected the aperture made 
in the mountain of Suicog for the purpose of draining 
the valley of Mexico. They next passed by Queretaro, 
Salamanca, and the fertile plains of Yrapuato, on their 
way to Guanaxuato, a large city placed in a narrow 
defile, and celebrated for its mines. Here they remain- 
ed two months, making researches into the geology 
and botany of the neighbouring country. Thence they 
proceeded by the valley of San Jago to Yalladolid, the 
capital of the ancient kingdom of Mechoacan ; and 
notwithstanding a continuance of heavy autumnal rains, 


descended by Patzquaro, which is situated on the edge 
of an extensive lake towards the shores of the Pacific 
Ocean, to the plains of JoruUo. Here they entered 
the great crater, making their way over crevices, which 
exhaled ignited sulphuretted hydrogen, and experienc- 
ing much danger from the brittleness of the lava. 

The formation of this volcano is one of the most extra- 
ordinary phenomena which have been observed on our 
globe. The plain of Malpais, covered with small cones, 
from six to ten feet in height, is part of an elevated 
table-land, bounded by hills of basalt, trachyte, and vol- 
canic tuff. From the period of the discovery of Ame- 
rica to the middle of the last centiu-y, this district had 
undergone no change of surface, and the seat of the 
crater was then covered with a plantation of indigo and 
sugar-cane; when, in June 1759, hollow sounds were 
heard, and a succession of earthquakes continued for 
two months, to the great consternation of the inhabi- 
tants. From the beginning of September everything 
seemed to announce the re-establishment of tranquil- 
lity; but in the night of the 28th the frightful subter- 
ranean noises again commenced. The Indians fled to 
the neighbouring mountains. A tract three to four 
square miles in extent rose up in the shape of a dome; 
and those who witnessed the phenomenon asserted, 
that flames were seen issuing from a space of more 
than six square miles, while fragments of burning 
rocks were projected to an immense height, and the 
surface of the ground undulated like an agitated sea. 
Two brooks which watered the plantations precipi- 
tated themselves into the burning chasms. Thou- 
sands of the small cones described above, suddenly 
appeared, and in the midst of these eminences, called 
hornitos, or ovens, six great masses, having an elevation 


of from 1312 to 1640 feet above the original level of 
the plain, sprang up from a gulf running from N.N.E. 
to S.S.W. The most elevated of these mounds is the 
great volcano of Jorullo, which is continually burning. 
The eruptions of this central volcano continued till 
February 1760, when they became less frequent. 
The Indians, who had abandoned all the villages 
within thirty miles of it, returned once more to their 
cottages, and advanced towards the mountains of 
Aguasarco and Santa Ines, to contemplate the streams 
of fire that issued from the numberless apertures. 
The roofs of the houses of Queretaro, more than 166 
miles distant, were covered with volcanic dust. 

When Humboldt visited this place, he was assured 
by the natives that the heat of the hornitos had for- 
merly been much greater. The thermometer rose to 
203° when placed in the fissures, which exhaled aque- 
ous vapour. Each one of the cones emitted a thick 
smoke, and in many of them a subterranean noise was 
heard, which seemed to indicate the proximity of a 
fluid in ebullition. Two streams were at that period 
seen bursting through the argillaceous vaults, and were 
found by the travellers to have a temperature of 127°. 
The Indians give them the names of the two rivers 
which had been engulphed; because in several parts 
of the Malpais great masses of water are heard flow- 
ing in a direction from east to west. Humboldt him- 
self considers all the district to be hollow. 

The Indians of this province are represented as the 
most industrious of New Spain. They had a con- 
siderable talent for cutting out images in wood, and 
dressing them in clothes made of the pith of an aqua- 
tic plant, which being very porous imbibes the most 
vivid colours. Two figures of this kind which Hum- 


boldt presented to the Queen of Prussia, exhibit the 
characteristic traits of the American race, together with 
a strange mixture of the ancient costume with that 
which was introduced by the Spaniards. 

The travellers retui'ned to Mexico by the elevated 
plain of Tolucca, after examining the volcanic moun- 
tains in its vicinity. They also visited the celebrated 
cheiranthostsemon of Cervantes, a tree of which it was 
at one time supposed there did not exist more than a 
single specimen. They remained here for several 
months, for the purpose of arranging their botanical 
and geological collections, calculating the barometrical 
and trigonometrical measurements they had made, 
and sketching the plates of the geological atlas which 
Humboldt proposed to publish. They also assisted 
in placing a colossal equestrian statue of the king, 
which had been cast by a native artist. In January, 
1804, they left Mexico in order to examine the eastern 
declivity of the Cordillera of New Spain. They like- 
wise measured the great pyramid of Cholula, an extra- 
ordinary monument of the Toltecks, from the summit 
of which there is a splendid view of the snowy moun- 
tains and beautiful plains of Tlascala. It is built of 
brick, dried in the sun, alternating with layers of clay. 
They then descended to Xalapa, a city placed at an 
elevation of 4335 feet above the sea, in a delightful 
climate. The dangerous road which leads from it 
to Perote, through almost impenetrable forests, was 
thrice barometrically levelled by Humboldt. Near the 
latter place is a mountain of basaltic porphyry, remark- 
able for the singular form of a small rock placed on its 
summit, and which is named the "Coffer of Perote." 
This elevation commands a very extensive prospect over 
the plain of Puebla, and the eastern slope of the Cor- 


dilleras of Mexico, which is covered with dense forests. 
From it they also saw the harbour of Vera Cruz, the 
Castle of St. Juan of Ulloa, and the sea-coast. 

Humboldt has published a topographical and phy- 
acal description of Mexico, by means of which, and 
the visits of subsequent travellers, this part of the 
globe no longer remains among the least known of 
those remote countries over which the power of Europe 
has extended." Before Humboldt's visit, the maps of 
the country were so inaccurate, that the longitude and 
latitude of the capital were uncertain. On the 21st 
of February, 1803, the inhabitants of Mexico were 
alarmed by a total eclipse of the sun, which eclipse 
was set down in the almanacs of the place as being 
scarcely visible. We cannot follow the disquisitions of 
the learned traveller on the condition of New Spain, 
because the limits of this little work would not allow 
us to furnish more than a meagTe and uninteresting 
outline; and because, likewise, though the physical 
relations of New Spain stand nearly as they did when 
Humboldt visited it, such a treatise would better be- 
come a regular and methodical history of the country 
of Mexico. We shall content ourselves, therefore,, 
with referring to two or three curious facts. 

One of the causes which, amongst others, tends to 
retard the increase of numbers in Mexico, is the small- 
pox. It seems to exert its power at periods of seventeen 
or eighteen years. It has been less destructive of late 
years, chiefly in consequence of the zeal with which ino- 
culation was propagated. The vaccine method was in- 
troduced in various parts of Mexico and South America 
at the commencement of the present century. Hum- 
boldt mentions a curious circumstance, tending to show 
that the discovery of our celebrated countryman, Dr. 


Jenner, had long been knoAvn to the country-people 
among the Andes of Peru. A negro slave, who had 
been inoculated for the small-pox, shewed no symptom 
of the disease, and when the practitioners were about 
to repeat the operation, he told them he was certain 
that he should never take it, for when milking cows in 
the mountains, he had been affected with cutaneous 
eruptions, caused, as the herdsman said, by the contact 
of pustules sometimes found on the udders. 

It is a great disadvantage to Mexico that it stands 
nearly on a level with the surrounding lake; which, in 
seasons of heavy rains, overwhelms it with destructive 
inundations. The construction of a desague, or canal, 
to carry off the waters of the Lake of Zumpango, and 
of the principal river by which it is fed, has since 
1629, prevented any very desolating flood. The de~ 
sagiie, though not conducted with skill and judgment, 
cost 1,040,000^., and is one of the most stupendous 
hydraulic works ever executed. "Were it filled with 
water, the largest vessels of war might pass by it through 
the range of mountains which bound the plain of 
Mexico. The alarms, however, have been frequent, 
and cannot well cease while the level of that lake is 20 
feet above that of the great square of Mexico. 

The appearance of the country of Mexico shows that 
the inhabitants are nourished by the soil, and that they 
are independent of foreign commerce. Yet agricul- 
ture is by no means so flourishing as might be expec- 
ted from its natural resources, although considerable 
improvement has taken place of late years. The low 
state of cultivation has been generally attributed to the 
existence of rich mines; but Humboldt, on the con- 
trary, maintains that the working of these ores has been 
beneficial, in causingmany places to be improved which 


274 PULQUE. 

would otherwise have remained barren. When a vein 

is opened on the sterile ridge of the Cordilleras, the new 

colonists can only draw the means of subsistence from 

a great distance. Want soon excites to industry, and 

farms begin to be established in the neighbourhood. 

The high price of provisions requites the cultivator for 

the hard life to which he is exposed, and the ravines 

and valleys become gradually covered with food. When 

the mine fails, and the workmen retire, the population 

diminishes, but the settlers usually stay in the spot 

where they have passed their childhood. The Indians, 

' too, prefer living in the solitudes of the mountains, 

remote from the whites, and this circumstance tends 

to increase the number of inhabitants in such districts. 

The plant called the maguey, (agave Americana,) is 

extensively reared for the purpose of converting its 

juice into a spirituous liquor called pulque. The finest 

plantations of it seen by the travellers were in the 

valley of Tolucca and on the plains of Cholula. This 

latter place is celebrated for the old pyramids, which 

remain as memorials of ancient Mexican grandeur. 

When the travellers left the city of Mexico, they 
went down to the port of Vera Cruz, which is situated 
among sand-hills, in a burning and unhealthy climate. 
They happily escaped the yellow fever, which most 
usuaUy attacks people who come down from the moun- 
tains, and those who aiTive by sea; and having em- 
barked in a Spanish frigate for Havannah, where they 
had left part of their specimens, they sojoui*ned there 
two months. After this, they set sail for the United 
States, and an-ived at Philadelphia: they afterwai'ds 
visited Washington, and spent eight weeks in that inte- 
resting country, for the purpose of studying its political 
constitution and commercial relations. In August, 
1804, they returned to Europe. 

Pulque planb. 




The extensive collections which they had made 
during their perilous and fatiguing journeys, and the 
general results of their expedition, have been of the 
highest importance to policy, historical knowledge, 
and science. Natural history, botany, astronomy, 
and geography, have been aided and advanced with 
reference to the American part of the torrid zone. 

We are told that, when these philosophic travellers 
had returned from America, Bonpland was appointed 
by Buonaparte to the office of superintending the 
gardens of Malmaison, where the Empress Josephine, 
who was passionately fond of flowers, had formed a 
splendid collection of exotics. The amenity of his 
disposition, as well as his acquirements, procured for 
him the esteem of all who knew him. In 1818 he 
went to Buenos Ayres as Professor of Natural History 
In 1820 he undertook an expedition into the interior 
of Paraguay; but, when he had arrived at St. Anne, 
on the eastern bank of the Parana, where he had es- 
tablished a colony of Indians and a tea-plantation, he 
was suddenly surrounded by a troop of soldiers, who 
destroyed the plantation, and carried him off a pri- 
soner. This was done by order of Dr. Francia, go- 
vernor of Paraguay; and the only reason given was, 
his having planted the tea-tree peculiar to that coun- 
try, and which forms a valuable article of exportation. 
He was confined chiefly in Santa Martha, but was 
allowed to practise as a physician. Humboldt, who 
makes pathetic mention of him, as we narrated at page 
243, applied in vain for the liberation of his friend, 
who did not until very lately obtain his liberty. 

In October, 1818, Humboldt was in London where 
it was said that the Allied Powers had requested him 
to draw up a political view of the South American 

278 Humboldt's journey into Asia. 

colonies. About the same time the king of Prussia 
granted him a pension of 12,000 dollars, in order to 
facilitate the execution of a plan -which he had formed 
of visiting Asia, and especially the mountains of Thi- 
bet. In the year 1822, he accompanied his Majesty 
to the Congress of Verona, and afterwards yisited 
Venice, Rome, and Naples ; and in 1827 and 1828, 
he delivered, at Berlin, a course of lectures on the 
physical constitution of the globe, which was attended 
by the royal family and the Court. In the year 1829 
he undertook another important journey to the XJra- 
lian mountains, the frontiers of China, and the Caspian 
Sea. We refrain from offering the reader any epi- 
tome of this expedition because the limits of this work 
warn us to come to a conclusion, and because the 
expedition just referred to, is better fitted for the 
attention of the votary of science, than for the lover 
of general literature. 




ST. martin's LANE. 


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